Six Steps for Developing a Successful Family Meeting

Date: Feb 21 2018

Ann Dugan, Senior Managing Director of Advisory & Education Services, Family Office Exchange

When you are a business-owning family, sometimes you can become so completely focused on the growth and continued success of the business that you forget the equally important mission of focusing on family. Family business owners of course need to understand the nuances and performance of the business in order to remain knowledgeable and caring owners, but they also need to spend time getting to know each other—whether siblings, cousins, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc.—regardless of what each person’s role might be in the family and in the business.

A great way to keep the family flowing and communicating is with an annual family meeting. Many FOX members use this time to call everyone together for a few days of learning and fun, typically while school is out. Preparation is important, so here are some FOX best practices for family meetings you should review ahead of yours:

  1. A lead family coordinator and committee should be selected from volunteers from the entire family. Mix it up so all branches of the family are represented and have their voices heard. Plus, this way they’ll all get to know each other, working together in the spirit of family. The family business’ CEO should be supportive of the committee, but rarely should they be on the committee.
  2. The committee should be charged with picking out a date and location for the family meeting, as well as sending out invitations to the rest of the family.
  3. When developing the meeting’s business agenda, the committee should survey the rest of the family and ask them what aspects and areas of the business they would like to know more about. Information should be kept at a high level, especially at the first meeting.
  4. The “fun” part of the agenda should include activities the whole family enjoys, as well as some that are more age group appropriate. Also, if there are any very young family members, you should make sure to have a babysitter available during educational sessions and adult social time.
  5. In the initial years, keep the meetings short, focused and fun. Consider an afternoon arrival on Day 1, with a fun catered family lunch and social time afterwards. Day 2 should start with optional exercise, followed by an educational agenda. Try to finish up the day by 4pm to give those people who want to head home that night the opportunity to do so.
  6. In our experience at FOX, we’ve found the first few meetings can be especially hard to put together, so we strongly recommend using a family consultant. After a few years of meetings, once the family is a bit more seasoned, the annual committee of family volunteers can typically do a great job with little oversight by a consultant.

We have found that this simple process delivers a bonus for years to come; helping your family remain in harmony while avoiding the infighting and conflicts that less thoughtful or communicative families seem to experience.