Family Meetings: A Three Legged Stool
Family meetings are frequently cited as one of the mainstays of family firm continuity. Add strategic planning and appropriate, active governance and you have much of the right stuff empirical research and just about every expert in the field recommend.
Business-owning families experienced with family meetings may tell you family meetings are most effective when they have as their focus three main ingredients: fun, business information, and content that contributes to each person’s personal development as an owner. Keep these three ingredients as the core of your agenda, and use an effective facilitator, and you will find that your family meetings are producing the desired outcomes. As a metaphor, I often describe it as a three-legged stool. Keep the legs even in length and the stool stands. Leave one leg off and…well, you get the picture.
The fun stuff, while you may think it is easy, is nothing to scoff at. Finding activities that are fun for all ages and genders takes creativity and collaboration. Don’t be afraid to invite input from the kids—yes, the young ones. They remember how to play, something many of us folks that are more senior have forgotten. Teamed scavenger hunts, putting on plays for one another, cooking pizzas, and creating family mosaics are all fun and collaborative. The key is finding fun activities to do as a family.
The business information is usually limited to a dull presentation—occasionally spiced up with PowerPoint—of historical data including last year’s sales, profits year-to-date, expense trends, and the like. A more interesting approach is to focus on the future; talk about the company’s strategic plan, revisit the family’s vision as a business-owning family, and reaffirm its continuity to the future. Or, for a different treat, take the family to your industry trade show every five years or so and let them see just how well you stack up to the competition.
The third leg is my favorite. It refers to family development, the educational kind. Specifically, the question you want to ask yourself is this: What skills and knowledge would make us better owners? I think a formal educational session is warranted for this portion of the meeting. Bring in a guest lecturer and request an interactive session on a topic near and dear to the hearts and minds of you and your fellow owners. Topics may range from best practices, boards of directors, compensation policies, family mission statements and family protocols, leadership, and leadership development to philanthropy, tax planning, and why we have buy-sell agreements.
The list is huge. If you need help thinking of ideas, you will find a wide array of sample topics at our web site, www.thefbcg.com.
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