Communication and the family council

Steve McClure
Steve McClure

“What is the dividing line between what goes on in a Family Council meeting and what gets shared with family members?” This was the question recently asked by a Family Council Chair.

He was getting criticism from some in the family for not sharing enough, and at the same time cautioned against sharing too much by those on the Family Council. Further, the Chair relied upon selected members of the senior generation to get advice on tricky matters; so some selected family members were privy to more details than others. The Family Council communication protocol was murky and the Chairman worried about getting caught taking advice some might see as biased.

In our experience there are no hard and fast rules for communications that work for every Family Council and the constituent families they serve. Each family has a culture which helps determine communications, privacy and transparency practices. That said, rules that have worked for more than a few are the following guidelines for Family Council communications:

  • Assume all discussions throughout a meeting are private and will not be shared with anyone – then, at the end of the meeting everyone will participate to agree and decide what will be communicated, how, by whom and when (also, even if an individual disagrees with what the Family Council decides to communicate, each individual will support the group decision);
  • When getting advice from specific family members (e.g., mentoring advice and seeking wisdom) it is not necessary to report such to the Family Council or to the family. Family Council members and the Family Council Chair should be free to consult whomever they wish without restrictions. However, in keeping with each Family Council members’ role of representing the whole family, we all agree we will try to balance solicited input by listening to the views of those known to have alternative perspectives;
  • Topics that are controversial and do not yet have conclusions or closure will not be communicated to the family without full Family Council consensus on what to communicate, how, by whom and when;
  • It is never okay to tell anyone outside a Family Council meeting who said what in a meeting; and,
  • If a family member outside the Family Council is asking for information that makes a member uncomfortable because there are no guidelines to cover it, Family Council members will get the topic on the Family Council agenda so guidelines can be established before proceeding. In some cases, it may be sufficient to get an interpretation from the Family Council Chair.

Developing written communications guidelines, which can be shared with all family members, is a good idea and works for many. Those who use written guidelines appreciate that they allow the Family Council to be proactive rather than reactive, and allow all family members knowledge about what to expect.


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