Each week in this space, I talk about things that affect the world of family business and family wealth, especially for families who are planning for a successful transition to the next generation.
This week’s subject is family meetings and three ways to assess them after the fact.
My premise is that you should strive for “calm, clear, and connected” meetings.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Keep Calm and Carry On
When a family can meet calmly and discuss important matters while everyone remains composed, the results are usually much more satisfying than when voices are raised in anger.
It is normal for some contentious subjects to arise, on occasion, where things get a bit louder and more animated.
When the loud and angry meetings outnumber the calm ones, it’s usually not a good sign.
Ideally, there can at least be some calm parts of each meeting where the family can truly benefit from everyone’s best thinking and ideas.
My Kingdom for Some Clarity
Another subject that I talk about regularly is clarity and the need for things to be clear.
Most people think that they have a clear picture of things in their own head, and that’s probably a good thing.
When we talk about a family though, it’s also important for everyone to have the same clear picture, and that’s very rarely the case.
There are many valid reasons why different people have different pictures of what they believe to be the reality.
Problems will arise when people who are working together to make decisions about important matters don’t have a common understanding of what they’re dealing with.
And a huge underlying issue here is that people often simply assume that their view is not only correct, but also that the others share their view.
One of the benefits of having an outside person present at family meetings is that this person can ask the “stupid questions” that the others would likely be afraid to ask, because they don’t want to risk appearing ignorant.
Of course, this presupposes that you can find an outsider who is prepared to act this way in the interest of clarity for the family.
I laid out some of the questions that you might ask in I Can See Clearly Now in 2016.
Connected: The State of the Relationships
The third element that I think is important for family meetings is connection. I realize that this one may seem a bit less obvious to some, but please stay with me here.
Families work best when everyone is on the same page and everyone has an opportunity to be heard.
When I facilitate family meetings a big part of my role is to ensure that each person has the opportunity to speak and contribute.
You may wonder about my choice of the word “connected” here, and I guess I must confess that part of the reason I chose it is that “calm, clear and connected” evokes the old “cool, calm and collected” expression most of you are probably familiar with.
But the connection angle also stems from my understanding of the importance of family systems theory.
Interdependent Parts of a System
The members of a family are all interdependent parts of the family system. I actually try to focus more on the relationships between the people than I do on the people themselves.
I try to notice all the non-verbal cues that I can when sister speaks to brother and son speaks to mother, and so on.
When everyone relates well with everyone else, meetings are more productive and the decisions that are made are more likely to stick.
Recap: Calm, Clear and Connected
No meeting is ever perfect. In fact, the focus shouldn’t be on any single meeting, but on having a series of regular meetings.
Try to get better from one meeting to the next, as the process evolves.
More calm is generally better than less calm.
More clarity, even if it takes a bit longer to make sure everyone understands things the same way, is better than less.
And when everyone actually connects with everyone else in meaningful ways, that’s ideal.
Think back to your last family meeting. How did you do? Where can you improve?