The caller told me that in her family, they have a family meeting every six months. I asked who is invited to the meeting: “All of the family members who own stock” she said. Spouses? “Nope.” Siblings who don’t work at the business? “No”. Adult children in the next generation in college? “Of course not.”
Another (and more descriptive) name for these gatherings would be a shareholder meeting. Why does it matter? To my thinking, excluding spouses, the next generation or any siblings (not working in the business) from a family meeting runs the risk of communicating ‘You’re not a part of the family.’
Eckrich and McClure’s book The Family Council Handbook does a nice job of differentiating among all the many different sorts of meetings
The decision making structure of a family business can be very complicated. Decisions are often made at the family level, the board level and the business level. Most decision- making groups spend their time focusing on the decisions that needs to be made, but don’t spend much time thinking about the process of decision making. Yet focusing on how you do the work can be an important element of a successful result. Think about a group that you are part of in your family business – perhaps organizing a family meeting, as part of the family business board, or as part of a management team. Has your group ever stopped to discuss the norms or rules for how the group works together? In most cases these norms or rules are assumed but not written down. And, in many cases, groups may not agree on norms or may not be happy with the norms currently being followed.
Some norms to consider include – how will we capture the decisions from our meetings, who is responsible for setting the meeting agenda, how do other team members provide input to the agenda, how will we communicate with each other between meetings (e.g., via email cc’d to all members?), how and with whom will we share information outside of the team, who may be invited to attend group meetings outside of the immediate group, what is the process for adding members to the group, or asking members to leave, etc. Taking a break from decision making to work on the process of making decisions can be very beneficial from the group – with improvements in speed and quality of decision making as a result.