Family Meetings

Notice We Don’t Start with “Go”

The “Blog Ideas” folder of my inbox is typically pretty current, as things I put there are either written about or else discarded within a few months of their arrival there.

This week I’m finally getting to one that stands out due to the dust it has gathered for over a year now.

A friend and colleague, Michael Palumbos, who I got to know through the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI) had sent out an email to many of our brethren in March ’21, with “Research Question” as his subject line.

He was polling a few dozen people who work with families on the “three things to do as a foundation” when beginning to work with them as a “family business coach”, as he labelled us.

I sent my ideas to him, he collated over 20 responses from colleagues, and he shared his distillation with us all as a thank you.

I don’t know why it’s taken me a year to write about this.

And the “Top 3” Is:

I’ve paraphrased the exchange between Michael and our PPI colleagues above.

Below is his version of what the responses boiled down to, verbatim:

  • Determine if the family is ready and willing to do the work.
  • Assess where the family is today and where they’d like to go.
  • Utilize family meetings to increase unity and education

Allow me to share my thinking around these three key pillars of working with any family.

1. Start with the Foundation – Are We Ready?

This seems pretty benign and simple on its surface. I can assure you that it’s anything but.

Some families will never be ready to do the work necessary to try to increase the chances of having a successful intergenerational transition.

One of the trickiest parts stems from the simple fact that a family isn’t one unitary entity, but a system composed of a number of different individuals.

Just getting to the starting blocks of working with a family on such a long-term project can be an accomplishment in itself.

The idea of hiring an outside person to work with the family can be scary for many, and is often a bridge too far.

It can be helpful if the person in the family who reaches out for assistance is from the current leading generation, but that’s not a guarantee that it will work either.


2. Where Are We, Where Do We Wanna Go

Once a family does agree to get started, because they believe they’re ready, it’s important to take the time to evaluate where they are, how they got there, and where they are hoping to go together.

When laying out the plan for an upcoming generational transition of leadership and ownership of family assets, those family members who are part of the system are all different, both in terms of their abilities and their wants and needs.

That’s why having an unrelated person there to help guide them and lead their discussions is key. 

Let’s just say that when I tell “Dad” something he might not want to hear, he will at least hear it better than if it came from one of his offspring. And that works with other generations too.

In terms of where the family wants to go, some have a multi-generational view, while others just want to get through the next transition, and either of those can work.

It’s usually simpler and easier to get consensus for the shorter timeframe projects.


3. Initiating a Series of Regular Family Meetings

Assuming that the family is ready and that they’ve done some preliminary work to have an idea of where they’re hoping to go together, the way to actually make it happen is centered on instituting regular family meetings.

These can be once a year, quarterly, or something in between. It might make sense to have them in quick succession when starting out and then changing the calendar later.

But you need to create a repeating process where family members will come together to discuss how the family is going to govern itself as they all relate to the business or the assets that they own together.

You need to schedule the next meeting before everyone leaves, and you need to know who’s expected to do what in the interim.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, which is why so few families actually make it work.