Holding the Power of the Process

I’ve just returned from a quick trip to the center of the universe, which every fellow Canadian will recognize means Toronto.

During the 48 hours I spent there, I had occasion to catch up with some folks I’ve known for years, as well as meet some people with whom I’d only recently exchanged a couple of emails.

The return to the world of face-to-face conversations is refreshing, and five meetings over two days allowed me to speak with people about the work I do and how I approach it a number of times.

These conversations had me rehashing a story I’ve shared many times when speaking with people, but have yet to write about here.

That changes today.


Facilitation Is NOT About the Content

Let me share that story now to set up my point.

Years ago I was in the board room with a family for the first time, and about an hour into things the matriarch stood up and began using very colourful language to berate her nephews and sons.

As she began to put on her coat and gather her things as she stormed out, I suddenly felt that all the eyes were on me.

The specific words that this woman had used with me weeks earlier, about wanting me to “referee” their family meeting, were coming more into focus right then.

That was when I needed to summon all of my strength to just sit there and watch, silently.

It has become my real life, lived experience of “don’t just do something, sit there”.


Hat Tip for the Inspiration

That type of occasion, where not doing something is what’s best, is very rare when presiding over a meeting.

The idea to write a blog about this came from a LinkedIn post by a colleague a couple of months ago.

Dr. Stacey Feiner shared a story about a meeting she was in where things suddenly got heated and everyone stared at her.

She had the perfect one-liner that got everyone back to reality and eased the tension, allowing for productive work to continue.

Going back to my story above, that meeting also continued, minus one person, for many hours of useful discussion, and in which my referee’s whistle remained in my pocket.


Reading the Room and Holding the Space

Not everyone is suited for this type of role, because there’s a weird power dynamic that you need to deal with.

In some ways, it seems like the person presiding over the meeting has a lot of power, because they’re guiding all of the process.

However, assuming that they are there because a process person is needed, then they actually don’t have any power at all, and are really there to allow all the other people to be as powerful as they can be.

This entails lots of observation, reading the room, especially the emotional field, and really holding the space for productive discussions to take place.


Intergenerational Discussions Fraught with Emotions

Let’s also not forget that I’m talking about meetings that involve family members, often from more than one generation.

We’re talking about the crossroads of family and business, with a lot at stake, and some power dynamics that can make things tricky in a hurry.

There are always plenty of important subjects to discuss in any business, even more so in a family enterprise.

But having those discussions go well and be productive is not always easy.

While I didn’t necessarily like the idea of being seen as the “referee” of the meeting, sometimes that’s what’s necessary.

I did referee hockey for a few seasons decades ago, and also umpired baseball games for a number of years too.

Little did I know then that these activities would give me some much needed experience that I could call upon in my 50’s.


Learning How to Be Together

When family members also work together, they sometimes fall into communication patterns that don’t work very well, especially for members of the rising generation, who may have difficulty being seen as responsible and mature enough for their roles.

In cases like these, they almost have to learn a new and more appropriate way to “be together”, in a way that works for everyone.

And never forget the saying that you know a game was well refereed when it’s over and nobody even remembers the ref’s name!

Business, Family, and Ownership Each Have Their Own “Clock”

I’ve been a huge fan of the Three Circle Model since I first saw it almost a decade ago, and wrote about it almost instantly. See Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment.

It remains the simplest way to quickly get at so many of the issues that enterprising families face, in a way that just about everyone involved can quickly grasp.

That model from Tagiuri and Davis has been around for over 40 years now, and many people have commented on it, tried to modify it, added circles, changed the sizes of the circles, turned the circles into spheres, etc.

Rarely, however, have I seen much comment around the time elements that affect each of the three areas.

That will change today.


An Old-Fashioned Analog Clock Analogy

Many of the posts I write here are inspired in one way or another by group discussions that I’ve been part of over Zoom, and this is yet another of those.

This one involved a number of local family business folks who have begun kicking around an idea to host an event next year to celebrate the community in some way.

The call included people from a local university, some practitioners who work with enterprising families (like me), and a few who run some pretty cool family enterprises, who I was happy to meet.

The discussion went all over the place and was all positive, and although I didn’t attend in order to find a blog topic….

When the academic on the call mentioned the Three Circle Model, my ears perked up, because I wasn’t expecting it to come up in this context.

And then he added the part about a clock, and the second hand, the minute hand, and the hour hand.

Bingo!


Flashback and Confusion, But No Time to Argue

He shared that someone had pointed out to him that you could look at an old-fashioned clock and think of each of the circles as being represented by one of the sweeping hands.

I’m pretty sure I stopped listening at that point because my imagination had taken over

I’m not even sure which hand he had assigned to which circle, but that’s probably moot here. I’ve got my own thoughts on that and I’m not sure they agreed with his, but in this context there was no time to argue either.

It also caused a flashback to a post I wrote about ownership and how that’s the circle that changes the least often, so for me it would have to be the one that gets the “hour hand”.  See Clunky Ownership Syndrome in Family Business


What About the Seconds and Minutes?

So what about the second hand and the minute hand, to be assigned to the family and the business?

Well, more often than not, I’d be inclined to say that the business turns at a faster rate, especially when there’s an operating company with lots of employees working there, possibly for many hours every day, possibly even around the clock.

I’d say that the family circle would be best ascribed to the minute hand, because things change there more frequently than in the ownership, but there aren’t necessarily any noticeable changes happening on a frequent basis.

If you have a family genogram with everyone’s age on it, you could update it once a year and never be too far off.


Attention, Focus, and Intention

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with anything, and if you are still left wanting, (and still reading this!) I’ll share my thoughts on the relevance of this.

Quite often, family members who also work in the business can become overly focused on the business, at the expense of the attention they pay to their family.

They follow that second hand around because it’s moving quickly, and in the time that the business went around the circle five times, the minute hand barely moved, so it’s easy to ignore.

Now extend this analogy to the ownership, and you can barely even notice that anything there needs to even be thought about.

But eventually….


Don’t Get Caught Watching the Clock

It can be very seductive to pay attention to the fast-moving business circle and forget that the minutes and hours also continue to move along at their own, slower pace.

The other circles, most notably the family circle, also require attention, focus, and intention.

Don’t get seduced by the second hand.

A Country Song Sparks a Blog – Again!

Whenever I get an idea for a blog post that allows me to link back to things I’ve written about here in the past, it gives me an extra incentive to try to pull all the pieces together somehow.

Of course, a decade of writing weekly gives me lots to look back on, and sometimes posts I thought were recent turn out to be much older than I recalled.

So a few weeks ago, when I heard a country song on the radio that sparked this week’s missive, I was amazed to discover that it’s been over 6 years since I’ve been inspired that way.

Back in 2016, it was Humble and Kind, which I had heard while driving to a family business function in Atlantic Canada. When that song came on again during my drive back, that sealed it, since so many of the FamBiz folks I’d met were both humble and kind.


Inspirational Simplicity

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a big fan of country music, but I have to admit that most of the lyrics are quite simple, and I find that inspirational for a number of reasons.

As someone who regularly tackles subjects that are quite complex, I am constantly trying to write about my ideas in ways that are easy to understand.

When you can already sing along to a song the very first time you hear it, you know that the writer has done something well.

When I wrote Blame it on Cinderella back in 2013, the lyrics of that country song had painted such a vivid picture in my head that I needed to write about the feelings it evoked.


Another Long Drive, Lots of Switching Radio Stations

So here I was in July 2022, killing time between a conference in Denver and running a family meeting in Denver, with a handful of days in between.

I decided to rent a car and managed to cross another 4 states of my list to visit (48 now, only missing North Dakota and Alaska).

Over those few days, I tuned into lots of different radio stations, and I was not surprised that many of them played country music.

I lost count of how many times I heard Dierks Bentley ask the rhetorical “What Was I Thinking?”, from that 2003 tune.

I’m pretty sure that I’m one of the few listeners who immediately thought about Bowen Family Systems Theory every time I heard it.


Being Driven by One’s Feelings

The song is about a fellow who ends up in some interesting situations, that make him ask himself the question, “What was I thinking?” each time.

The understanding is that he was clearly NOT thinking, because a thinking person presumably would never have allowed himself to get into all those situations.

In fact, in the line just before that question, he says “I know what I was feeling”.

Murray Bowen came up with his Family Systems Theory (BFST) starting in the late 1950’s and continued to work on it until his death in 1990.

When I began working with business families about a decade ago, I kept hearing about BFST and how it was a great tool to try to master if you are planning to work with families.

One of the most basic concepts in BFST is “Differentiation of Self”, where the idea is to become better at following your thinking rather than your feelings.


Family Situations Evoke Strong Feelings

When looking for family leadership among members of any generation, you will often discover varying levels of differentiation, where some members are guided by thinking and others are more driven by feelings.

Dr. Bowen would encourage any family to put more faith in those who use their thinking brain more.

He also supports the idea of consciously trying to work on oneself to try to act less based on our feelings, and more on our thinking.

He talks a lot about the subject of anxiety, and the ability to function well even in anxious situations, where it’s clear that being able to remain calm and keep a clear head are hallmarks of the emotional maturity required to be successful.

Families with lots of drama can be extra tricky. 

Great family leadership is essential.


Interdependent Wealth

If you’re interested in BFST and how I use it when working with families, please pick up a copy of Interdependent Wealth on Amazon.

You Can’t Start Too Early – Or Can You

It’s Never Too Early nor Too Late – But….

This week we’re going to take a look at a common question that people in my line of work get, and dig a bit deeper into my standard answer, to try to test its limits.

It so happens that a couple of the client families with whom I’m presently working are showing signs of concern with the pace of our work together, which has brought this to the front burner for me.

I want to write something here that I can share with them, and at the same time make some broader points about how my engagements with a family can play out.

But first a flashback to a skit from an old Saturday Night Live episode that came to mind when I wrote the title above, which I immediately realized could be misconstrued.

 

“You Can’t Put Too Much Water in a Nuclear Reactor”

That 1984 skit featured guest host Ed Asner (begins at 53:42) as a retiring boss at a nuclear plant, who gave the workers he left behind some advice that ended up causing confusion, from which much humour then ensued.

“Just remember, you can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor” had some workers believing that you shouldn’t ever put too much water in, while others opted for the opposite interpretation, i.e. that it’s impossible to put in too much.

My “You can’t start too early” suffers from the same shortcoming, but my sub-head, “It’s never too early” clarifies my views.

Starting WHAT, Exactly?

It may help if I define what I’m referring to when I say “start”.

My work typically involves families who are trying to ensure that the wealth or business that they’ve created can be successfully transitioned to the next generation of their family.

Those efforts involve a number of legal and structural steps and procedures, of course, but those are always handled by other experts in those subjects, not by me.

My work is in the family circle, working the family dynamics and relationships aspect, which usually includes getting the family started with regular family meetings.

The work around these efforts, bringing the family members into these key discussions, is what I mean by “getting started”.

 

Try Not to Make a M.E.S.S.

I wrote about this back on 2017, in a post called Start Cleaning Up Your M.E.S.S. where “M.E.S.S.” was an acronym I had created to help readers remember four important aspects relating to getting started.

The “M” is for “Start Moving”, emphasizing that this is much more than just thinking about it or talking about it with one person, it’s about action.

The “E” is for “Start Early”, which is what we’re looking at today.

The two “S’s” are where it can get tricky for some, especially those who feel like they need to be in a hurry to get somewhere.

Some people just don’t do well with “Start Small” and “Start Slowly”, but they’re key for a number of reasons.

 

Why You Need to Start SMALL

It’s important to start small because you don’t want to lose anyone along the way, and onboarding family members into such a process needs to be done carefully, because you really want to make sure that you will maximize their engagement.

Taking big steps would allow you to feel like you’re making big progress, of course, but if it means that some of the more skeptical family members aren’t ready to buy in, then big steps work against you.

 

Why You Need to Start SLOWLY

Back in 2018, I wrote There Is No Destination, where I talked about the fact that life is more about the journey than the destination, and that’s an attitude I encourage parents to adopt.

Going slowly, and taking small steps, is important for the engagement question too, because again, you don’t want to lose anyone along the way.

You can really only go as fast as the group is willing to go, so erring on the slow side is what I always encourage.

 

There Is No Finish Line

There’s actually no need for big steps or going fast when you consider that there is no finish line to this work.

We’re not trying to get to the last page of the book or tick off all the boxes on a checklist, we’re trying to make sure that family knows where they want to go and how they will work together.

That work never ends.

Human Insights from a Family of Geese

When people ask me about my favourite place to be, and I want to be really specific, I mention sitting on my kayak, on the Chockpish River behind my cottage in New Brunswick.

I’ve written posts about my time here over the years, notably Stuck in the Mud? Don’t Wait for “MayDay” about an incident that has stayed with me for a long time, as well as From Upstream to Downstream in the FamBiz in which I raised some wealth transition lessons from a natural phenomenon.

But today I’m writing this post after a fresh experience that I had early on a Monday morning as I paddled along and came upon a family of geese.

Most of my blog writing occurs on Fridays and Saturdays each week, so for me to be working on next week’s post this early, you know that something resonated with me.


Just Minding My Own Business

I woke up early and decided that the combination of the weather, the tides, and a light calendar of Zoom calls offered me an opportunity to get out there an explore the river just after sunrise.

It was a rare trip already when I met an oncoming canoe in the first 10 minutes, and I jokingly mentioned to the couple and their dog that I didn’t expect so much traffic.

Little did I know at the time that I was foreshadowing lots of honking!

Onward I went, minding my own business, when I approached what shall henceforth be called “Goose Island” heading south.


Mother Goose Shows Wisdom – Father Goose, Not So Much

A family of Canada Geese were all on this small island, and one of the adults, who I assumed was Mom, saw me coming from afar and began heading to the far side of the island and into the water.

She was eyeing me the whole time, and seven of her brood slowly got up and followed her into the water, heading away from me, the oncoming perceived threat.

Nicely done, mama goose, I thought.

Then a moment later, I notice another adult, Father Goose, I assumed, who saw me a bit later, and who had three of their youngsters in his charge.

I had hoped that he would lead them away from me as well, but if that would’ve happened, there would’ve been no goosebumps nor story to tell.


Honk, Honk, Honk, He Bellows

Father goose, with his three offspring, Tom, Dick, and Harriet, all enter the water on the side of the island where I’m trying to simply glide past them so as not to cause any unnecessary fear.

The incessant honking has now begun, as father goose is likely trying to scare me and also alert the mother of their goslings that there’s a danger in their midst.

They continue swimming south, trying to outrace me, and the honking gets more aggressive.

I’m trying to speed past them to put any fear at rest, but instead I’m seen as more of a threat as I accelerate.

I try widening my distance, but the narrowness of the river prevents me from doing so.

At one point, Dad even starts flying to get further ahead of me.

And then, suddenly, something changed.


The Rising Generation to the Rescue

I looked down at my leg and noticed goosebumps, and was struck by the irony that they were caused by a goose, which I guess gives me a story to share if ever I’m on Jeopardy.

Suddenly one of the goslings, likely Harriet, decided to do a 180, and began swimming northbound, you know, the other way!

Her brothers did the same, I was finally past them, and Dad finally gave me a final honk, which sounded to me a bit like “honk off!”


Some Morals from this Story

Aside from the fact that the gender attributions I made are mere guesswork, and that the whole affair didn’t last any more than a couple of minutes, I do have some take-aways.

Parents don’t always make the best decisions for their families.

What is perceived as a threat is not always a threat, and I was riled up by this too, as I did not want to get goosed!

Sometimes a well-timed move by one family member can end up benefitting the whole family, and often that member is part of the rising generation.

Later, as I passed Goose Island on my return, they all just watched me intently, with nary a honk. Phew!

They Both Begin with “Uni”, but Are Very Different

Over the past decade since I’ve been sharing my thinking here, a number of subjects have obviously been repeated several times.

Having defined my “turf” loosely as discussing the challenges that families face when trying to transition their wealth to subsequent generations, there are only so many general categories one can write about, especially if you’ve committed to churning out something new 52 times each year.

So as I embarked on this week’s post, I looked back to see how often I’ve written about the idea of “family unity”.

Well, let’s just say that I was surprised at how infrequently I’ve written about this subject.


Clues from the “Family HUG” Post?

I distinctly remembered one post from 2021 where “unity” was a key word, as it played the key role in the acronym I’d coined, providing the vowel in “HUG”.

See The “Family HUG” We’re All Looking For

That piece stemmed from a comment by a colleague during a webinar I was leading for the FFI course I teach on family governance (GEN 502, for the curious).

Lisa had mentioned that all families want the same three things: “Harmony, Unity, and Growth”, and as I noted them I was struck by the word “HUG” that they formed, and made that the genesis of the post.

But why haven’t I written about unity more often?

Could it be that it is so much of a “given”, because every family wants it, so it’s not worth discussing? 

I’m pretty sure that’s a part of it.


Is Uniformity Part of the Equation?

There are lots of “sub-plots” in any story of family unity, and one of the big ones, whether or not it’s actually recognized and spoken about, is the concept of uniformity.

Simply put, to what extent do we all need to be the same, in order for us to remain together.

This idea comes from the work of a friend and colleague, Nike Anani, and is mentioned in her book Lifetime to Legacy, which I recommend, as it had me nodding my head all the way through as I recently read it.

She suggests that differing views on how much uniformity is desired by different members of any family are worth exploring and discussing.

These are my own views on her writing about this, but they’re what resonated with me, my take-aways, and continue to evolve as I think about this subject.


Finding the Right Balance Between “Me and “We”

A common scenario sees the leading generation wanting more uniformity, with members of the rising generation preferring less.

When facilitating family conversations around this idea, words like “unity” and “uniformity” are never mentioned, but they’re always in everyone’s subconscious.

Sometimes when everyone is thinking about something but not speaking about it, that becomes an opportunity for a skilled outsider to broach the subject.

A sub-text here often includes a certain desire and expectation that the rising generation follow their elders and adopt the ways of their parents, because, well, they’ve been successful so far!

Meanwhile, their offspring have often grown up in a very different world, see things very differently, and have their own views, ambitions, and priorities.

These differing views are always at the root of challenges to be overcome, and the sweet spot typically lies somewhere in the middle of those views.

The ideal situation is one where the family finds the right balance between the “We” and all of the “Me’s”.


Diversity Is the Key to Maximizing Human Capital

A subject that I do write about a lot is human capital, and the idea that every family would do well to consider each of their family members as useful contributors to the family wealth and mission.

If all of those people are the same, i.e. too uniform, you will not be able to get as far together, because you will have a lot of redundancies.

Diversity is an asset and should be sought, promoted, and celebrated, as it allows the family more options and avenues that they can pursue together over coming generations.

Unity gets tougher as a family grows in numbers, it’s basic math when you get right down to it.

Families need to find ways for everyone to play a part in achieving the right level of unity, and uniformity is never part of the solution.

In fact, trying to force too much of it is often part of the problem!

Family Governance Is the Ultimate Team Sport

Shortly after writing My “Role / Goal / Control” Life Hack last year, I came up with another rhyming word that I could have added to those three, and I made note of it so that I could someday write this week’s post about it.

Looking at the title I chose for this week’s blog, you may have already guessed that that word is “enroll”.

I’ll quickly recap the initial post, which highlighted a three step way of looking at a challenge one faces.

I suggested taking a moment to first consider the role one was playing in the particular situation, then to think about the goal they’re trying to achieve, and then finally being realistic in understanding that there are only so many elements that one can actually control in any set of circumstances.


Moving Away from the “What” Questions

You may have noticed that all three of those questions normally begin with the word “what”. What is my role; What is my goal; What can I control.

Today, I want to add a different question, and this one starts with Who.

As in “Who can I enroll in this project?”

Some tasks are best handled by a single person, but many others have a higher likelihood of success when a leader is able to enroll the support and participation of others.

I write about challenges that families face as they prepare to transition their wealth from one generation to the next, and so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I think that overcoming family challenges is particularly well suited to such group involvement.


Going Far, Going Together

A family “project”, as I call it with some of the families I’m privileged to work with, is by definition something that works best when several people are involved in it.

I can’t believe it was over 6 years ago that I wrote Going Far? Go Together.

That remains one of my favourite blogs, and is based on the African proverb:

                            If you want to go fast, go alone. 

                           If you want to go far, go together.

Needless to say, if you want to have people join you on your quest, it helps if you’re able to enroll them in it.


Some Definitions Are Useful

As often occurs when I write these missives, I end up Googling important words along the way, to make sure I’m as precise as possible getting my points across.

With “enroll”, I came up with some interesting angles:

  • “officially register as a member of an institution or a student on a course”

That one wasn’t exactly what I was going for, but just below that I hit pay dirt:

  • recruit (someone) to perform a service.

I like the part about recruiting, because it highlights the fact that there is often some outreach required from the leader in order to attract other parties to the task.


In Service of the Family

The “service” is also part of it, although perhaps less noticeably.

The person who is attempting to enroll others needs to convince the others that the “service”, or what’s to be gained, is for the benefit of the others, and ideally the whole family.

When one member of a family begins to take this task seriously it typically feels a bit lonely and even overwhelming in some respects.

Once they’re able to enroll one accomplice, it gets easier, as I discuss in The Exponential Magic of Family Collaboration.

The secret to doing this is to not have high expectations that it will be quick or easy to get others on board.

It really is a marathon and not a sprint, and various family members will each take their own time to understand what’s involved and why their enrollment is important to the success that the family is hoping for.


This Is NOT for All Families

For many families, all of this work is simply a bridge too far, and for most families it’s more work than they’re prepared to do.

But, for some families, it is exactly what they need to be doing, in order for the wealth they have accumulated to be successfully transitioned from one generation of their family to the next.

It truly is for exceptional families, in the true sense of the word, i.e. they are the exception.

I write a lot about family engagement and family alignment, and a big part of both of those is family enrollment.

It takes a lot work and patience to get everyone on board.

Coming Down from a Rocky Mountain High

Over the years since I’ve been sharing my thoughts in this space on a weekly basis, there is one particular source of inspiration upon which I have drawn far more ideas than any other.

Regular readers can likely guess that I’m referring to the Purposeful Planning Institute, whose members long ago became my “tribe”.

I first attended PPI’s annual RendezVous in Denver in 2014, where it became evident for me that this community was unlike any other group of professionals I’d ever encountered. (I’ve yet to come across anything else even close to it since either.)

Having just completed our first in-person RendezVous since 2019, I’m coming down from my Rocky Mountain high and will share my experience.


Highest Membership Numbers Yet

I should explain my role with this group a bit further before I expound upon the “humble brag” that I’ve already set up here.

I’ve been serving on the Wisdom Expedition for RendezVous for 5 years now, including the past two years as its leader. 

Wisdom, along with its sister expedition, Experience, both sit below the Vision Expedition, which is responsible for each annual RendezVous gathering. 

The result is that the organisation benefits from a leadership group numbering a couple dozen committed believers, and that breadth has always been a hallmark of PPI’s success.

So when John A. Warnick, PPI’s founder and our fearless leader, shared that PPI’s membership is now over 450 people, there were many people in the room who beamed with pride, as this is the highest number since PPI’s initial RendezVous in 2011.


Pent Up Demand for Connection

Reconvening with one’s tribe is always great because although we’ve remained connected virtually in the interim, this is a group of “huggers” and many were long overdue.

And, at the same time, there were so many new faces this year too, and that bodes well for the future.

Our theme was well selected, “The Fundamentals of Human Connection” and I’m quite sure we won’t stray too far from that in the future either, as it is what sets the PPI community apart.

What we all have in common is a desire to better serve the families we work for, and doing so requires that we go deeper, and connect not just with our heads but also with our hearts and souls.


A Community and Its Members

Between sessions over the three days, there are lots of long breaks built in, during which relationships can be built and or rekindled.

By the final day, I kept returning to the same comments in my discussions: 

The whole of our community is greater than the sum of its parts, for sure, AND, so many of those parts are really fantastic to begin with.

As I often remark, the way we think about our professional community also happens to have many parallels to the work we all do with families.

Not all families realize how important it is for them to work on developing all of the human capital they have at their disposal in their family.

As we have the privilege to work with such families, part of what we often need to do is to nudge them in this direction, and encourage them to consider every family member and their individual development, and not simply be satisfied that the family remains wealthy or that their business continues to succeed.


A Few Highlights for Good Measure

Following RendezVous each year I typically blog about some of the highlights, but I didn’t leave myself much room this time.

From our opening keynote from Akasha to the closing salvo from David York, there were many other great moments in between.

The Dream Building session featuring Amanda, Cathy and Marlis was off the charts, the FRED Talks that I was honoured to introduce were all home runs, and the two Purposeful Connections speeches were wonderfully touching.

I was looking forward to finally meeting my friend Cindy Radu in person, but thanks to a late Covid diagnosis, she was forced to submit hers on video, and she blew everyone away nonetheless.

I always go to RendezVous to refill my proverbial “pitcher”, from which I pour for the other 51 weeks of the year.

As usual, the many firehoses that were present made it overflow and I left all wet, and very fulfilled.

See you again next year.

Figuring Out Who Belongs Where

Working with families who are in the early stages of trying to establish some governance, there are always many areas of uncertainty involved, and some doubts about just how to proceed.

Often families expect that the steps and answers will be simple and easy to follow, but that’s rarely the case in my experience.

And that’s actually a good thing, because every family is different, and you can’t just look at a similar family who are a decade ahead of you and assume you can copy them and save ten years of work.

Of course there are likely plenty of experts who will try to tell you that it’s doable and charge you a hefty price for the shortcut, and some of you will buy into the mirage, unfortunately.


Regular Family Meetings Come in Many Forms

One good place for me to begin sharing my views on this subject is to look at a couple of the most basic kinds of meetings and structures that many families use to form key parts of their family governance: the family assembly, and the family council.

Regular readers will recognize my penchant for wordplay, and the title of this post definitely went there, as I found a way to (cleverly?) combine both of those into my headline, and ended up with more than I bargained for.

While a “family assembly” is a popular term for what many families create, the “some assembly required” does double duty in underscoring how much work is typically required when a family goes down the road to creating their governance structures and procedures, which must evolve slowly over time to actually have a high probability of success over the long haul.


From a Large Group to a Small One?

But not every family evolves in the same direction, as I will now discuss.

Sometimes a family will begin by having a large gathering, where everyone who’s related is invited to spend some time together, often like a reunion, and where the festivities might last longer than one day.

If those are the characteristics, then I would put that under the heading of a family assembly.

This is usually the largest and most inclusive group of people invited to get together, and includes many possible stakeholders, including in-laws, and many who will never work in or own any part of the family enterprise.

At some point down the road, such a family may decide to convene an smaller, more select group of family members who can then make some decisions for the family.


From a Small Group to a Large One?

Other times a small group is the starting point, where a select few, carefully chosen family members come together and begin to make some important decisions that affect the family and how its members interact with the family’s enterprise(s).

They may begin to make some major strategic decisions that start to form the building blocks of the family’s governance.

This approach is one I would label a family council.

At some point, this group might decide that a much larger meeting would be useful to share information and educate a larger group of family stakeholders, and they might decide to hold such a gathering, which may then become something that also reoccurs on a regular basis.


Neither Is Necessarily Better or Worse 

Last week in Looking Forward Together as an Enterprising Family, I ended by noting that the most important idea is to get into the habit of having regularly scheduled family meetings.

I did not get into whether those meetings might be an annual family assembly or a quarterly family council meeting, because either one might make the most sense for any particular family at any point in time.

All of this, no matter which direction it goes, requires some leadership and intentionality.

Writing about this has just sparked my memory of a favourite quote of mine, which I have yet to share in a blog post, so here goes.


From Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe was an American tennis player who faced plenty of adversity. Here are his wise words:

                        “Start where you are. 

                         Use what you have. 

                         Do what you can.”

I love the simplicity of those words, and they apply quite nicely to any family beginning their family governance journey.

They can also come in handy in a variety of other life situations, so make sure they’re never far away whenever you need them!