Perhaps you’ve been wondering how to communicate to the next generation of your family the challenges and complexities facing your business. Or perhaps you’ve been thinking that you want to discuss succession planning. Or maybe you want to sit down and discuss your family’s entire estate plan. Holding planned family meetings can be an efficient way to address these issues if these are the questions that are on your mind.
Family Meetings are events that can help set long-term goals, ensure transparency, define roles, and help connect family members across generations so they understand the responsibility and management of their wealth.
“Wealthy families have so many activities going on—operating businesses, trusts, philanthropy, investments,” says Gregory T. Rogers, founder of RayLign, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based family communications consultancy, and a TIGER 21 Member since 2006. “The family meeting is a chance to ask, ‘Where are we today? Where are we going? And how are we going to get there across the entire family enterprise landscape?’”
Those questions form the backdrop to all family meetings, but the most successful sessions take on more focused issues and are carefully planned in a way that accounts for the many different players who make up an enterprise family. Depending on your needs, a family meeting may involve just you, your spouse, and your children, or it might include nieces, nephews, in-laws, cousins, parents, or a variety of other family stakeholders and advisors. According to Rogers, your invitation list will depend on what you want to accomplish and expectations for family member connectivity. No matter who is asked to attend, “Good family meetings have two primary elements: transparency and engagement of the people who are involved,” Rogers says.
To ensure you get the most from your family meetings, Rogers suggests the following:
Define the Purpose of the Meeting: Before you schedule a time to meet, make sure you are clear on the meeting’s purpose. Is it to discuss philanthropic endeavors? To make sure a succession plan is in place? Is it an event designed to update all players on a particular project or upcoming challenge?
Family leaders can determine the purpose, but smart ones will reach out to family members to get their input. Pre-meeting outreach reduces anxiety among attendees, Rogers says, and helps them feel like their input matters (of course including their input in the agenda is key.) Solicit everyone’s thoughts without judgment, being careful to listen to those you’re contacting.
Choose a Location Wisely: Sometimes the meeting should be in your office, other times in someone’s home; still, sometimes a family meeting might be a three-day retreat at a resort. Rogers says that where the meeting is held depends on what you want to accomplish, whether it’s “process” or “content” related. If it’s business plus a review of family history, building relationships within the family, or mentoring and developing a plan for charitable efforts, then it might require more time and might be helpful to hold the meeting offsite. If it’s more about one or two single structural decisions, such as a portfolio review or update to your estate plan, you might be able to carve out a few hours in an office setting.
Create a Meeting Agenda: Be sure to plan not only the objectives and the agenda, but think about exercises, activities, breaks, venue, and food ahead of time. (Rogers suggests reading The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker as a helpful resource.) “People often ask if you should mix business and pleasure, but in the context of building relationships at any organization, you’re going to want to have some time to mix pleasure and business,” Rogers says. “If you’re overseeing significant wealth, and there’s enough complexity, you really do have to treat it as an enterprise. And enterprises require strategy, direction, buy-in, and also relationship development.”
Follow Up is Crucial: A good meeting always includes follow up, yet this is where many come up short. Family members have taken time out of their busy lives and want to feel they are moving forward together. Participants should receive a meeting summary soon after the meeting adjourns even if very little action is required. Be sure to articulate the next steps and be clear about who is responsible for each one. The follow up should also include “meeting highlights,” a constructive overview that includes key takeaways, and an invitation for feedback. It’s important to remember that these meetings act as valuable pauses in the dynamic, everyday journey for the family, and as such need to contribute to forward momentum.
Some families have a family member act as the facilitator, but many others hire an outside, independent facilitator to ensure things go smoothly and that the meeting is facilitated with minimal bias. An outsider can help you clarify your agenda and what you’re trying to accomplish. He or she can offer perspective on organizing the meeting and interpersonal relationships. “As far as facilitation is concerned,” Rogers says, “it’s very hard to facilitate the family system if you’re in the family…we all have our own biases, we all have our own triggers, and we all have our own perspectives. So, when you’re in the family and trying to facilitate, others may look at you with skepticism because they may think you are pursuing your own personal agenda even if you don’t think you are.”
Facilitating a meeting also requires a lot of multi-tasking. The listening, directing, agenda management, and other activities associated with facilitating actually limit your ability to participate as a family member.
“The presence of a non-judgmental facilitator allows everyone to feel heard,” Rogers adds. That facilitator may be someone who knows about your business or estate, or it may be someone like a psychologist or therapist who is trained in interpersonal relationships.
It’s not necessarily simple to hire a facilitator given the importance of chemistry with your family but consider asking peers or your wealth advisors to help locate a match.
Rogers says meetings that aren’t successful usually fail because of the following:
The biggest pitfall of all? Emotions. “The primary thing people worry about is the emotional stuff. Someone gets triggered, starts yelling, someone starts crying, gets angry, or storms out the door,” Rogers says. Pay attention to what he calls “relational dynamics” and try to create a safe space that recognizes such things can happen. “Then be ready to react in real time, including be willing to alter the planned agenda to deal with whatever issue is blocking the meeting’s progress.(You also might want to make sure tissue boxes are in the room and that breaks are part of the agenda.)
Some other things to keep in mind when it comes to managing attendee emotion and family meetings:
Learn more about how to manage issues that are associated with high net worth:
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