As a CPA, I have been involved in many family meetings. Sometimes, I act as an advisor to the participants. At other times, I may actually be part of the family that is having the meeting.
I remember having a client several years ago that had several children that were actively involved in the business during their lifetime. We hada family meeting with several advisors and it became apparent very quickly that strains of the family dynamic and how it affected their relationships. Very quickly, the perceived problems of childhood, parenthood and other factors came out and you almost had a civil war on your hands. We were able to get it back on track, but it was touch and go for a while.
Dr. Donald Jonovic writes a monthly column in Successful Farming that I think is always worth reading. A recent column from the print version of the magazine dealt with Family Rules of Conduct for these meetings. Dr. Jonovic listed several rules for effective meetings. Some of the ones that I feel are especially relevant are:
- Always treat each other the way you would treat important friends or colleagues. – Too many times I find that family will treat each other worse than any other friend or acquaintance. We should really treat our family better than our friends. If we do, many of our family problems would be cured.
- Keep your business and personal disagreements confidential and within the family. – Disagreements should be handled in-house. Don’t put them in the “outhouse” so to speak.
- Keep meetings fun – Farming is fun and having meetings about farming and family should be fun. Have some type of family interactive game or other ice breaker to keep things loose.
- Do not equate difference of opinion with disloyalty – Remember that having people always agree with you means they go over the cliff with you when things go wrong. Encourage people to give you a different viewpoint. This is always the best way to learn.
- Leave your cell phones at the door – This may be tougher for our Gen X and Gen Y family members, but it is only for an hour. They can survive and will learn to enjoy it.
There are many other good points, but to make your meetings effective, implement as many as you can.
Tags: Family Business Meetings, farming operations, verbal and non verbal communication