Staying in Step with the Client Families We Serve

Adjusting your Speed Is Always Top of Mind

One of the many challenges that people like me face when working with families is to make sure we are going at the right pace for the family we’re working with.

For many professionals who serve enterprising families, it can be much simpler, since they typically do most of their work with only one or two people at a time. 

Because that work is largely technical and the work product consists mostly of documents, the back-and-forth between the outside expert and the family is relatively straightforward in most cases.

But when you specialize in the “family circle”, as I often call it, that all flies out the window.

And I know that I’m not alone in recognizing that.

The Benefits of Peer Groups

Since I began this work a decade ago, I’ve always been seeking out others who also serve families in this way, and over the years my network has grown.

In early 2020, just before “you-know-what” hit us all, I had started a monthly peer group meeting with friendly colleagues from various places, mostly in North America.

We meet once a month for an hour and share a case each time, and get feedback and learn from each other.

With time we’ve begun to connect in even more enriching ways and have developed some close, trusted connections.

This work can feel lonely at times, and most of us don’t have a local peer group who understand our challenges working in this niche.

Getting Out Ahead, Or Following Along Behind

Towards the end of a recent call, the advisor presenting her case (DS) noted something about wanting to “stay ahead” of where the client family was going, which made perfect sense to her.

Along came a reply from another group member (PE), who noted that his style was different, and he stated that he never went anywhere until his client led him there

I must admit, that point of view resonated strongly with me.

But is one right and the other one wrong

No, I don’t think so at all. And I’m certainly not trying to make a case for either way.

Truth is, though, that each of us will have preferences in how we interact with client families, and they will likely fall somewhere along the continuum from completely proactive to completely reactive.

And it will also probably vary from one situation to another too.

Family Members Move at Different Speeds

Let’s get back to the topic we started with, the number of different family members we’re dealing with.

Unlike technical specialists, family facilitators deal with large groups of family members, and they don’t all move at the same speed.

That may have to do with their skill level, their motivation, their interest, the other things going on in their lives, conflicts with other family members, or simply the way they’re wired. 

Or a handful of other reasons we’ll never understand.

When it comes to adjusting my speed to that of the family, I try to look at it as “leading from the middle”.  Whereas DS had a desire to get out front, and PE preferred to follow from behind, we cannot forget about trying to stay with the critical mass of the family.

The Tour Guide Analogy

Years ago, doing college visits with my two children, I went on a couple dozen campus tours.

A tour guide analogy works for me, because you can’t simply run ahead and expect the whole large group to keep up with you. 

The good ones would say, “We’re heading over there”, and point, and some group members naturally wandered there ahead.

But you can’t expect the group to all go ahead and get to where you’re trying to go either, so you cannot be the caboose of the train either.

If you can manage to stay with the center of the group, guiding the natural leaders ahead, while making sure the stragglers don’t get lost along the way, you’re probably going about it as well as you can.

When There Is No Destination

Of course all of those tours ended, usually back where they began.

When you work with a family, there is no destination. 

You may not always be there to guide them, but you need to try to keep them close enough together and move at the right speed to help them make progress.

See There Is No Destination