Analogies have long been one of my favourite ways of trying to convey interesting ideas to audiences.
Most are quick “one-shot-deals” that come up in a conversation and never get used again.
Others have more staying power, and become part of my “go to” arsenal of tales I use to get important points across.
Today’s blog should become part of the latter group, as I will surely find opportunities to use the story behind it with plenty of families, and their advisors, going forward.
Team Building Exercise
The setting for this story is a campsite in the woods, the week before school starts up again in the fall.
The main characters are 10 High School Seniors, along with a few adult chaperones from their school.
The students had been chosen by their classmates, and approved by school staff, before summer break, to act as prefects for the coming school year.
The trip itself was designed as a team-building exercise above all, and included a major project: building a bridge together.
Inside Info and Unplanned Events
I was not part of this trip, but I did have someone close to me who provided me with inside information about it, after the fact.
As a parent, I had known about the trip in advance, but the details of the project only came up afterwards, thanks to a number of bee stings that my daughter and a few others had the misfortune to experience.
If you have teenage kids and you’ve ever tried to get information about an incident they were involved in, you know how these discussions go.
“You got stung? Four times?
How did that happen, what were you doing?
A bridge? In the woods?
Why the heck were you building a bridge in the woods?”
Photographic Evidence on Social Media
A few days later, the school tweeted out a photo of the students and their handiwork.
I’ve gotta say, the picture I had in my head before I saw the tweet was of a more “substantial” bridge.
But it was technically a bridge, so I can only assume that it met whatever expectations had been set.
More importantly, by all accounts the experience they went through together, including the unplanned parts, did have the desired effect.
They’ve been working together and leading all sorts of school activities since then, and while everything doesn’t always go perfectly according to plan, that trip, and the bridge project, did serve a very useful prupose.
The Magic of Co-Creation
The end result was not so much a bridge in the woods, but a cohesive group of people who knew how to work together.
If they had really needed a bridge, the school could certainly have found other ways of getting one built.
But the overall goal was to have the teens work together on making decisions, communicating, and solving problems together.
The entire exercise was one of co-creation and teamwork.
Similarities to Governance
If you’re a regular reader, (thanks!) then you may recognize the three elements that I just outlined above:
They are of course the main elements that we include when we define governance.
Family governance is something that can and should evolve from within the family group, and it is best done with as many of the key family members as possible.
Please see: The Evolution of Family Governance for more. (That blog also includes links to previous posts on the topic.)
Can’t We Just Buy the Bridge?
If your family has recently decided that governance is an important part of your intergenerational wealth transitions, I urge you to heed the lesson here.
Yes, you probably could “buy” some elements of a governance plan from some professional advisors and consultants.
There are those out there who are willing to sell you a “family constitution” or a “family charter”.
Be forewarned that you may be buying a “bridge to nowhere”.
It’s All About the Experience
Like our teens in the woods, it was never about the bridge.
Families often need the experience of building
something together more than they need a bridge.
Once again, I’m arguing that process is more important than content.
The key family members who will have to live with the agreements they make over the next few decades need to be key actors in their design and construction.
Even if they do get stung a few times along the way.