One of the special things about families is that each one is completely unique. Each member with their own lived experiences and interactions, and the context in which the family is embedded, creates that uniqueness. While each member might be familiar with their family’s idiosyncrasies, navigating these can be challenging, especially when it comes to behaviors around money. Family meetings, however, are one of the single best tools families can use when confronted with decisions that will affect all family members and future generations. These meetings can bring a family closer together, foster communication, and help the family plan for the future. In this article we will explore the importance of family meetings and provide guidance on how to make them as productive and enjoyable as possible.
Bringing a family together through a meeting signals that there is some shared purpose and reinforces the idea that each family member is important and valued. During a meeting, families develop a sense of identity and pride in the family and foster responsibility for its future success. More pragmatically, these meetings provide an opportunity to discuss important issues, such as managing the family business or caring for an ailing relative, in a supportive environment. Holding family meetings helps ensure all family members recognize issues facing the family, fosters cooperation beyond just the set meeting, and provides an opportunity for everyone’s needs to be addressed.
Organizing and executing family meetings takes effort, particularly if family members live in different locations or have busy schedules. Additionally, each member’s unique personality, values, and goals can lead to disagreements, but approaching these discussions as growth opportunities for the family to listen to each other will lead to more engaging conversation.
To mitigate these challenges, we recommend planning meetings thoughtfully and utilizing the following six tips to maximize the opportunity for a successful gathering.
The single most important task when planning a family meeting is defining the objectives and communicating them to everyone attending. Goals could include sharing information among members, learning about each other, better understanding the family’s wealth, collaborating on charitable initiatives, discussing family governance, or crafting the family’s collective vision for the future. If members are traveling and making sacrifices to attend, they will want to make sure there is a purpose for the meeting. The goal does not have to be monumental—something as simple as promoting family unity and strengthening long distance bonds can be a sufficient reason to bring the family together. Typically, there are other matters that require the family’s attention. Is there a need to discuss a specific issue, such as succession planning or managing the family beach house? Is the purpose to share the family history and values? While this may seem obvious, too often we’ve seen families struggle when members are not clear as to why they are meeting.
Once goals are set, create a meeting agenda. Structure will help you stay on track and let everyone feel like their time is being valued. Depending on the goals for the meeting, the agenda could be very specific, with defined presentations, or it could be more free-flowing and encourage collaboration among family members. Regardless of the approach, make sure to leave time for discussion and questions so that everyone has a chance to share their thoughts.
Preparing meeting materials forces the host, or host committee, to think through the agenda. All participants need to know the agenda and goals beforehand to understand their role in the meeting. Remember to include enough information so that everyone arrives with a general familiarity with the meeting’s purpose and structure.
Don’t forget to include time for family bonding. Outings to ball games, group classes, hikes, or outdoor adventures can all serve to create shared experiences and memories, foster communication, and to help bring the family closer together.
The location of your meeting can have a big impact on its success. If the topics to be discussed are more serious in nature, consider a neutral location such as a conference center or hotel where everyone can feel comfortable. If you have a large family, you may want to rent a vacation home or villa where everyone can stay together. Just be mindful of individual time, financial, and travel constraints.
Attack the problem at hand, not other family members. While it is reasonable for events of the past to be talked about if related to the objective at hand, a family meeting is for collaborative problem solving, not the place to try to confront family members regarding personal matters.
Conclude topics and identify action items. Be sure to mark the end of specific agenda discussions and recap any action items.
Embrace the diversity within the family. Approach differences among family members as an opportunity to view issues through different perspectives. A diversity of inputs can lead to better problem solving and, ultimately, create a more resilient family.
Assign tasks to people. During the meeting, individuals should be provided with an open space for dialogue and expression. Assigning action items to specific family members extends that sense of contribution and responsibility by empowering members to act in the family’s interest. Additionally, placing members in charge of action items distributes the workload, encourages ownership, and promotes continuing communication.
If the meeting’s topics are inherently heavy and you anticipate conflict or disagreements, consider using a professional facilitator to help navigate these challenges. A facilitator will remain neutral and has experience ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak. Additionally, facilitators know how to keep the flow moving to ensure the meeting stays on track with the agenda.
After your meeting, make sure to follow up with family members regarding the outcomes and next steps. Follow up with the specific family members that were assigned action items to ensure follow-through. As tasks are completed, update the family so that a sense of progress is maintained.
Whether you are a family of four or forty, we believe making family meetings a tradition will be a rewarding experience. There are many resources available to assist you. By following some best practices established by families who have been down this path already, your family can be prepared to come together, plan for the future, strengthen relationships, and position yourselves for success.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to Manchester Capital Management if you would like to discuss how we can help you plan your next family meeting.
This material is solely for informational purposes and shall not constitute a recommendation or offer to sell or a solicitation to buy securities. The opinions expressed herein represent the current, good faith views of the author at the time of publication and are provided for limited purposes, are not definitive investment advice, and should not be relied on as such. The information presented herein has been developed internally and/or obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, neither the author nor Manchester Capital Management guarantee the accuracy, adequacy or completeness of such information.
Predictions, opinions, and other information contained in this article are subject to change continually and without notice of any kind and may no longer be true after any date indicated. Any forward-looking predictions or statements speak only as of the date they are made, and the author and Manchester Capital assume no duty to and do not undertake to update forward-looking predictions or statements. Forward-looking predictions or statements are subject to numerous assumptions, risks and uncertainties, which change over time. Actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in forward- looking predictions or statements. As with any investment, there is the risk of loss.
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