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Legacy Matters

June 12, 2019

Four Best Practices for Holding Successful Family Meetings

Part 4 of our Family Meeting Series

“Meetings are usually terrible, but they shouldn’t be.” 
 
So says Patrick Lencioni, a nationally recognized speaker and pioneer in creating healthy organizations. And he is right. No one actually wants to go to a meeting, especially if you feel that it will be combative or emotional or that nothing will be accomplished.

The thought of a meeting being combative or emotional or without accomplishments provides great excuses for people to avoid family meetings. However, research shows that families who hold thoughtfully-planned family meetings on a regular basis are much more likely to build the cohesiveness and communication skills necessary for the successful transfer of their wealth to the next generations. Thus, constructive family meetings are important for high net worth families.

And, family meetings shouldn’t be intimidating or terrible to sit through. In fact, we have found that the meeting practices listed below help create a positive environment in which families can build communication skills over time while accomplishing their goals. Our “Top Four” list includes:
 

1. Have Rules or a Code of Conduct

For meetings to be successful, family members must feel that they are functioning in a positive environment for discussion and that their input is welcome. To this end, your family should have a set of five to ten rules for family meetings, created and agreed upon by the family members. Your rules should be distributed at each meeting session and be the first item on your meeting agendas, as a reminder.

Here are some examples of possible rules:
 
  • We will be respectful of each other in speech and action.
  • We will practice active listening.
  • We will encourage communication from everyone.
  • All information and comments shared in meetings will be kept confidential – “What happens in the family meeting, stays in the family meeting.”

If your family doesn’t have a written set of meeting rules, you can make it an agenda item at your next meeting. 

2. Use a Facilitator

If family meetings are still new to your family, if you are discussing a difficult topic, or if you are experiencing a stressful event such as a transfer of business control or the death of a family leader, an outside facilitator is recommended for at least a few meetings. A trained professional can help the family be productive with its meeting time by:
 
  • Helping your family learn to communicate in a more formal setting
  • Helping the family navigate difficult topics and areas of misunderstanding/disagreement
  • Making sure that everyone’s voice is heard and everyone sticks to the meeting rules
  • Keeping the group on topic and moving through the agenda 
  • Making sure minutes are taken and action items are distributed to family members

A good choice for meeting assistance is a current family advisor who is also trained in facilitation. An advisor with this type of training adds value to your meeting by knowing your family and the issues that are important to everyone, but he/she does not “take sides” on issues and can help the group move forward from discussion to a decision.
 
If a meeting topic is expected to be particularly contentious, your meeting facilitator can also talk with individual family members prior to the meeting to lay some groundwork, discover sensitive issues and allay fears. This allows family members to come to the table ready to participate.   
 
3. Take Notes

In each meeting session, make sure someone knows that he/she is assigned to take meeting minutes in an organized fashion and distribute them soon after the meeting. (This could be a position that rotates through the family.)
 
  • Taking notes on the main discussion points provides a reference source at future meetings and prevents people from using excuses like “no one told me” or “we never talked about that.”
  • Distributing the meeting minutes provides a record of what needs to be done before the next meeting and an opportunity for corrections to the minutes, if needed.


4. Follow Up After the Meeting

Following up after a meeting improves the next meeting by providing an opportunity to incorporate feedback and saving you from having to discuss something again because an action item wasn’t completed. Below are typical follow up activities.
 
  • Act on Action Items - Appoint someone to follow up on any action items that were assigned to family members to make sure that members complete them.
  • Survey Participants - If possible, provide a short paper or online survey (such as SurveyMonkey) to gather feedback on what people liked and what could be improved for the next meeting.
  • Plan the Next Meeting - Use survey information, current events, next generation education plans and the meeting topic list the family has created to help shape the agenda and procedures for the next meeting. Don’t have a meeting topic list? Make that an agenda item at the next meeting!


Let Warner Help You Create Family Meetings That Get Things Done

The attorneys in our Private Client and Family Office Practice have years of experience planning and facilitating family meetings. We can help you create effective meetings that prepare your family to work together in making not just the easy but also the tough decisions along the path to preserving and transferring family wealth. 
 
If you need assistance with planning, holding or facilitating family meetings, contact Susan Meyers (616.752.2184 or smeyers@wnj.com) or Mark Harder (616.396.3225 or mharder@wnj.com) in our Private Client and Family Office Practice Group.
 
Just starting family meetings? Click here to watch a replay of our webinar “Starting (and Sustaining) Family Meetings: An Insider’s Guide” – we recommend opening the link in Internet Explorer for best viewing option.
 
Visit our Legacy Matters blog page to read the other entries in our series on family meetings.

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