Tag Archives: family meetings

Family Retreats

Bernie Kliska
Bernie Kliska

A family retreat should be a time to align values and educate each other, while at the same time have some fun. It is usually held in an informal setting where family members can bond and exchange ideas and information.

To handle the flood of material, questions, complaints and accolades, it would be advisable to have a facilitator to help guide the family with their interaction.

What may seem like a good idea at the time, can fall flat or even become an occasion for family flare-ups. So what makes for a good family retreat?

  • Develop a Defined Outcome: It is valuable to have realistic and clearly defined goals and outcomes. The agenda should be distributed to everyone in advance and based on input from the entire family.
  • Be Thoroughly Prepared: There should be no surprises. The single largest cause for why family retreats do not succeed is because of not being prepared. If for example, one person is a “trouble maker,” that should be anticipated in advance. If a family has a hard time sitting for an extended period of time, that has to be factored into the design of the retreat.
  • Bring Solid Content: This is an opportunity to gain family cohesion around certain viewpoints and strategies. This is also a time for families to learn something about themselves as individuals, as well as collectively as a family.
  • Ensure Effective Process: Often family leaders focus on the end result and underestimate the importance of the process involved in the discussions. The process should be fair, open and engaging to ensure full participation from everyone. While content is critical, it is often the process that causes problems and derails communication.

If properly planned, the family retreat should be an opportunity to prevent confusion, dissension and conflict. Having sincere and candid communication will only benefit the family, as well as the business.

Conciliatory Gestures – Helping Make It Safe to Reach Agreement

Mike Fassler
Mike Fassler

Families that work together successfully while maintaining positive family relationships have figured out how to have difficult conversations and reach agreement on challenging matters.  Conciliatory gestures, doing something or saying something that expresses a concession or a willingness to make a concession, can play an important role in this success.  Conciliatory gestures help create a safe environment for multiple parties to make concessions as they work toward agreement.

Examples of conciliatory gestures include apologizing for what was said or for how you behaved; acknowledging your contribution to the challenging situation which demonstrates a willingness to be accountable, and positive expressions about the other’s contribution.  These gestures demonstrate vulnerability and a desire to find common ground.  This in turn can elicit a conciliatory gesture on the part of others as the expressions send a message that fairness will be represented in the ultimate decision.

In order for this to be effective, all parties must share a fundamental belief that they all have the greater good of the family and the business in mind balanced with respect and consideration for individual interests.  Absent this mindset, conciliatory gestures may be viewed as less than authentic and therefore manipulative.

Give it a try.  The next time you are engaged in a discussion that is emotionally charged and where opinions vary, try out the use of a few conciliatory gestures.  Set the example for the group engaged in the discussion as it may be contagious and could lead to a break through to agreement.

Information and Communication: The Challenge of Data Overload

Drew Mendoza
Drew Mendoza

A keynote speaker I heard twenty years ago, who promoted himself as a ‘futurist’, made the point: “don’t worry about the trash, we’ll find a way to deal with all the trash as better recycling technologies arise.  The thing you’ve got to worry about is the data.  We’re all going to be drowning in information.” 

Turns out he was spot-on.

In enterprising families, attention to information flow seems to be on the rise.  So too are family meetings, family councils and boards of directors are becoming more disciplined and more thoughtfully and strategically comprised.  *

The challenge for leaders of families and family firms is building the processes by which family members are educated and enlightened so that they can understand the data they’re receiving and apply it to metrics which indicate the degree to which the family and its enterprise(s) are reaching its goals.  Doing so results in more fully aligned shareholder groups and, as any CEO with multiple family shareholders will tell you, an aligned shareholder group makes the CEO’s job much easier.  In my experience, these are the same families that are more likely to achieve their business goals.

We’d love to hear from you – what steps are you taking to keep family shareholders both aligned and informed?

*For a great read on family enterprise boards read Building A Successful Family Business Board: A Guide for Leaders, Directors and Families

Does Constant Communication Break Down Human Communication?

Stephanie Brun de Pontet
Stephanie Brun de Pontet

Our highly wired culture encourages us to constantly be ‘in touch’ and communicating through texts, Twitter, phone calls, emails, Facebook, Linked In, you name it…   It seems we are forever posting or checking updates, sending or responding to texts or emails, essentially constantly in the act of communicating – at least electronically.

But sometimes all this electronic communication crowds out in-person communication.  I have seen countless face-to-face meetings interrupted by a phone call or a text; it is increasingly difficult to enforce the ‘no electronics’ rule at meetings; and I have even witnessed family meals with clients where family members are texting each other at the table (rather than speaking)!  I sometimes wonder if we raising a generation of people who will be increasingly uncomfortable with direct human interaction.

In addition, the constant interruption of electronics also challenges people’s ability to focus and work on projects in an uninterrupted manner.  As the norm in many business (and social) settings is that folks will respond to a received communication almost instantly, there is pressure to always check and respond to email, texts, etc.  This effectively prevents individuals from having uninterrupted time for complex discussions or quiet work.

While I would never advocate eliminating electronic modes of communication (I am email-dependent), I do think families need to insist on some ‘electronics off’ time – both in the business and in the family.   At your next family meeting you might put electronic communication on the agenda and have a frank discussion about how it is helping and harming the family and the business, and consider some policies to manage it intentionally.

Three ingredients to multi-generational firm success

Drew Mendoza
Drew Mendoza

Over the last twenty-plus years of working with and observing multi-generational family businesses, three attributes common to the oldest, largest and best performing ones seem to present themselves repeatedly. 

First – the family shareholders are aligned around matters of vision, purpose and expectations of each other and the enterprise.  And, as often as not, they reach alignment through the use of family meetings or other such important forums for shareholder and family education, development, trust building and communication. 

Second, the output of those family meetings – their vision, purpose, sense of unity,  policies and agreements – these all serve as important contributors to strategy.  The outputs inform management of what is expected of them and the rules they’ll have to play by; what some may call the non-negotiables.

Third, their values implicitly or explicitly include transparency, accountability, stewardship, outside input and a responsibility to others.  These values usually guide them to establish appropriate and active governance – both for the family and the operating company.

At our website, www.efamilybusiness.com, you’ll find dozens of books, webinars and thousands of articles loaded with ideas about family meetings, governance and being an effective family firm shareholder.

Why Are Family Meetings So Emotionally Draining?

by John L. Ward 

Most family members find family meetings to be emotionally draining and the anticipation of family meetings to be full of anxiety.  This is true even of strong and loving families, with either benign or exciting agendas on their horizon.  Why?  Listening to several families address this question provides the following explanations. 

  • Hot Spots” Are Always Expected
    Every family has tender or vulnerable relationships or topics that can come up with little warning.  While it isn’t at every meeting, it is inevitable that they occasionally arise.  Infrequent, inevitable, unpredictable, uncomfortable occurrences provide the highest levels of anxiety.
  • Family Meetings are an Unending Process
    Every family meeting, every family decision; seems to beget another.  Not knowing the next steps or decisions creates constant alertness and the tension of constant preparedness without knowing exactly what’s being prepared for.  Inevitably, members seem to believe, a tough emotional decision will arise.  But uncertainty about when it will arise adds to the nervousness.
  • Expectations are Damaged
    Families often include so many idealistic hopes for each other and for the family.  Time together dealing with difficult decisions can lead to disappointments to those idealistic expectations.
  • Process is Hard Work
    For some people in every family, process is a difficult experience, one in which they don’t feel comfortable.  They are better at tasks, projects, decisions that have a clear beginning and end.  Quite often those most uncomfortable with process are the family leader of the business whose power, when uncomfortable or dissatisfied, can lead to thunderous outbursts.
  • Power Moves Eventually Surface
    Family meetings often attempt to put all adult family members on a peer basis.  But, from time to time, the senior generation does exert its power, usually when they are personally uncomfortable or their past actions or their beliefs are questioned.  Those reversions of power by parents deflate and spark despondency in the next generation.  Nothing creates more pain and sets back the family meeting process more.

All these possibilities and uncertainties generate anxieties and stressful vigilance.  Anxieties and vigilance are very fatiguing.  And, with families, there is no break.  The family and family memories are always with us.  Withdrawing to recharge and refresh personal energy is very difficult.

Families and family meetings can, of course, also be the sources of the greatest joys and the greatest accomplishments.  Families usually provide support for each other and the warmth of love is so comforting.  But when families work together, taking on more decisions together, the above issues also are part of the equation.  While fully worth the energy and anxieties for most families, it is important to remember that family meetings are emotionally draining for most, leading to great ambivalence over the whole idea of family meetings.

Family Meetings Provide the Opportunity for a Happy Family and a Prosperous Business

JoAnne Norton
Jo Anne Norton

Family meetings are fundamental to the health and happiness of family businesses. As family business consultants we are frequently invited to help families learn how to have productive family meetings as well as to assist in creating family councils. Other times we are asked to facilitate and educate these meetings for families who sincerely want their legacies to last.

Recently, members of a second-generation family business invited me to work with them. They are exceptionally passionate people who take great pride in their family and are passing on their tradition and legacy to their children. The reason they brought me in was because, as one of the brothers would later explain: “We are all chiefs of our own tribe, and we need to become one nation.” Although the family gathers frequently for holiday celebrations, they rarely get together to talk about their business. Over a period of two months we had a series of four meetings focusing on improving their communication skills, helping them understand the different ways they think, examining their different leadership styles, and exploring ways of resolving conflict.   

When we debriefed I asked each of them two questions: First, what has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about each other? One said she was amazed that they all think so differently. Another was surprised at how willing all of the family members are to work together, and still another said he was heartened at how much wisdom they all had and their ability to share it with each other.

Second, I asked: What has been the most significant thing you’ve learned? They said it is honoring everyone’s unique style of thinking, communicating, and leading. One sister said that by having these discussions concerning how they think, what had been invisible is now visible. Finally, one of the brothers said he learned to become more focused on the other person’s heart by really listening to what is being said.

Our work with this family continues, but it is obvious the family dynamics are beginning to improve in just two short months after four afternoon meetings. This is key according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Family Business Survey just released. Based on interviews with over 1,600 families around the world, the survey is cleverly titled: Kin In The Game.

The results of the survey confirm what family business consultants have always known: family dynamics affect the success or failure of the family business. “If there’s unhealthy conflict between the family members, it will spill over into the way the business is managed and owned . . . Conversely, if relations with the family are healthy, the business is more likely to be healthy too” (page 5). Also according to PwC’s research, 71% of family businesses do not have any procedures for resolving conflict between family members (p. 33).  Of those families who do have some way of managing conflict, 52% use family agreements, 44% use family councils, and 37% use third-party mediation (p. 32).  

Investing time and money to improve relationships of family owners is a great investment in the future of the business. Creating a family council gives family owners the chance to manage conflict as well as to make family agreements. These meetings provide the perfect opportunity to have both a happy family and a prosperous business.