During a recent conference with family businesses in Asia, I had the honour of giving a presentation on the subject of governance. It was all about the structures, processes and the behaviours required for promoting the continuity of a family firm. During the Q&A and during the lunch roundtable chats, I was amazed to hear the same question asked again and again: “This is all well and good, but can you teach me how to talk to my parents?” and conversely “Can you teach me how to talk to my children?” It seems governance structures alone will never be sufficient but must be supported by healthy and mutually respectful dialogue across the generations. Many next generation members did not have the heart to tell their parents that they wanted their “own” career. Older generations resisted dialogue for fear of putting too much pressure on their children. Some wanted to save their children from the rigours they had experienced.
So what can we do? One family decided to hold a “dialogue” workshop. We helped each generation to articulate their primary needs, their fears and their ultimate desires plus any questions they had for the other generation. I was as an external facilitator to help create a “safe space” for such dialogue, complete with rules of engagement and we worked with each generation to prepare for the session.
The results were surprising and heartwarming. Most notably, a feeling of mutual regard developed across both generations, emotions were aired and accepted and the power of dialogue was witnessed by all first hand. Now they don’t need a facilitator. The family has a common dialogue to use when they need to raise an issue and we were able to provide permission for each generation to talk to the next without preconceived outputs.