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How Are We Going to Make Decisions Together?

In this space we talk a lot about family governance, which I know is a term that turns some people off. In order to soften it, I typically follow up quite quickly to clarify what it means in practice.

The two major elements of governance are communications and decision-making. The way I normally phrase it is “How are you going to make decisions together?”

It’s normal for families to move from an autocratic decision-making style in one generation to a more democratic style in the next.

By far the best democratic style I know of, and what I always recommend families strive for, is consensus.

Last week I shared about the recent PPI RendeZoom, in What Colour Is Your Cape?

This week’s post was inspired by one very brief comment I noted from one of its breakout sessions, that gets to the heart of what consensus requires.

What You Can Learn When You Pay Attention

Conferences are a great chance to hear industry veterans share some of their wisdom with colleagues, and I got some of that from the PPI crowd as usual.

What I did not expect, however, was to hear a very useful synopsis of the two most fundamental ingredients of consensus, especially coming from the youngest person at the conference.

It was during the final set of breakout sessions, and I opted for the one dealing with teenage philanthropy, led by Sue Schwartzman. 

She brought along three members of the rising generation from families who’ve been part of her program over the years, including one current participant.

It was Friday afternoon and I was just glad to hear an interesting discussion, and that’s when I got my money quote.


               “Consensus Is All About Respect and Flexibility


“Wait; What?”  

Did I just hear the best summary of what consensus requires from someone born in this century? The short answer is “YES”.

Short and sweet, direct and clear. How come I’d never heard anyone say it this succinctly before?

I’ve written about consensus before, notably in Putting the Consent into Consensus Part I and Part II, way back in 2016.

But this young woman, who shared with us how working with a group of other teens to make decisions about which projects they would fund had really hit the nail on the head.


The Missing Link or Ingredient

These aspiring teenage philanthropists were part of a program where they got to learn not only about philanthropy, but also on some key life skills around collaboration, and what it takes to do it well.

So often when I’m called in to work with family members, it can take a while to figure out just where they need to make some changes in how they relate to each other when it comes to their decision-making.

Thanks to this latest “A-Ha Moment”, I now have a new, simple “diagnostic” question that I’ll ask myself: 


                      What’s missing here, respect, or flexibility?


Based on experience, respect is almost always something intra-family groups could use more of, but inflexibility isn’t usually far away, for at least one family member.


An Iterative Work-In-Progress

As I write these words, I cannot help but think about the fact that these two key elements feed off each other and can be very much related.

As my respect increases for the others with whom I’m working to come to important decisions, so is the flexibility I’m likely to feel comfortable according to their ideas.

Likewise, as I hear new ideas that I’m willing to consider, I’ll feel more flexible towards them, and I almost cannot help then also having more respect for those who initiated these ideas.

This can be a fortuitous circle that then continues to “spiral up”, and that would be a good thing for most families. 

The counterpoint is that continued inflexibility can decrease respect, and vice-versa, too, resulting in a downward spiral.


A New Handle On and Old Problem

After writing over 400 blogs, my threshold for something of value isn’t very high; I’m only looking for one new insight for my toolkit.

I’ve now noted a simple new way to think about how families communicate around their decision-making, centered on the presence (or absence) of respect and flexibility.

And it came from a precocious teenager, so it has the added benefit of giving me a story to tell when I share it.

That’s plenty for me, I hope it’s useful to you too!