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Legacy Matters

September 05, 2018

5 Best Practices for Planning Successful Family Meetings

Part 3 in our Family Meeting Series

Question: How do you know if you planned a good family meeting? 
Answer: Everyone comes back for the next one!
 

While this tongue-in-cheek answer has some truth to it, many enterprise and high net worth families don’t settle for mere attendance as validation of a successful meeting, and instead strive to continuously improve their meetings by incorporating best practices. 

It is never too early to begin planning your next meeting, and we encourage families and their offices to use the five best practices below to plan successful family meetings that can be enjoyed by all. 
 
  1.    Invite the right people.
  Before sending invitations, the family leaders need to decide who will attend the meetings and which parts of the meetings each person will attend. This decision should be communicated to all family members and applied fairly.
  A.    Questions to guide this decision include:
    •    Will the list of invitees vary based on meeting type or items on the agenda?
    •    In an enterprise family, are only shareholders invited?
    Are spouses invited? If so, to which parts of the meeting?
    At what age will younger family members be invited and allowed to participate? Which parts of the meeting will be attended by each age group?
    Are outsiders, such as attorneys, advisors or professional speakers, invited? What purpose is served by them attending?
  B. If children and spouses will attend:
    Arrange for childcare for young children.
    Plan activities in which spouses can participate when they are not in meetings.
 
  2. Choose the right place to meet.
    It is better not to meet at someone’s house or at the family business because these locations can make some members uncomfortable. In addition, a house or the family business can offer distractions that can interfere with the business of the meeting.
    A. A better choice is a conference center or a retreat center.
      •    Look for a location that offers privacy and can provide security, if necessary. It should also have space for breakout sessions and childcare, support the technology needs of the meeting, and meet the accessibility needs of less mobile family members.
      Consider the availability of dining and recreation options on-site or nearby.  
      Choose meeting rooms that are pleasant, ideally with windows and natural light.
      Make sure drinks, snacks and meals that meet dietary needs are available.
 
  3. Create an agenda for each session and distribute it to all attendees prior to the meeting.
    Survey family members before creating the agenda to collect their concerns and topic suggestions. Make sure to review and utilize feedback from earlier meetings. 
    Distribute meeting agendas in advance to people who are invited to each meeting. 
    Identify any “homework,” and “assign” it when distributing the agenda.
    Clearly mark action items on the agenda and include expected outcomes, such as taking a vote.
    Include the anticipated meeting length in the agenda. Be realistic about the time needed for everyone to have an opportunity to participate in the discussion, and build in breaks every hour or two for longer or multi-session meetings.
 
  4. Incorporate equal parts business, family development and family fun.
    A. Following the business meeting, offer family development activities for teens and adults. 
      Build competencies in areas such as trusts, the business of the family enterprise, reading financial statements, philanthropy and investments.
      Hire a great speaker on a topic of interest or find fun activities to develop softer skills such as effective communication, group decision making and teambuilding.
    B. Plan family activities that everyone looks forward to each year.
      Fun activities make meetings more enjoyable. Equally importantly, fun activities help build important connections, especially with family members, such as in-laws who are new to the family, or among individuals, such as cousins who live far apart and do not know each other as well.
      Choose an activity that promotes bonding among the younger members and between generations (e.g., flag football, family dinner, volunteer work). 
      If an activity turns out to be well liked, make it a traditional or annual event.
      If you go somewhere new for each meeting, organize group trips, based on members’ interests, to explore the area (e.g., shopping, sightseeing, biking). Or, take advantage of local recreation options for fun and relaxation (e.g., skiing, golfing). 
 
  5. Cover the costs of the meeting.
    A. Family meetings will be more enjoyable if:
      Members aren’t pulling out their wallets every hour to take care of all the little costs (parking, babysitting, snacks, meals, tips). 
      Members do not feel burdened with the extra costs of travel to attend.
    B. Anticipate costs, both large and small:
      Have the family leaders or the family office cover the costs of the meeting, including travel, or divide the total cost equitably across families.

Let Warner Help You Plan Meetings That Will Keep Your Family Coming Back

The attorneys in our Private Client and Family Office Practice have years of experience planning, presenting at, and facilitating family meetings. We can help you plan successful meetings that allow your family to take care of business while building the relationships and skills that will carry on the family legacy. 

If you need assistance with planning, holding or facilitating family meetings, contact Susie Meyers at 616.752.2184 or smeyers@wnj.com, or Mark Harder at 616.396.3225 or mharder@wnj.com, in our Private Client and Family Office Practice. 

 

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