There is no time like the present to get on the same page as your family, especially in matters of finance. But when it comes to holding a meeting, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Here we take the time to break it down so you can find out what works best for your family and current situation.
Who should be included? 5 questions to ask yourself.
Ultimately who is included in the family meeting will be determined by the subject matter. Some may choose to include only the bloodline, while others want to include their spouses or partners, even children. Though it’s important to consider age and the possibility that some issues may not be suitable for those who are too young to understand.
Take the time to ask yourself these five questions to help determine who should be included.
What is the goal that the family meeting is trying to achieve?
What are the core values we share?
What conflicts could arise if some family members hear information directly and others hear it second hand?
What is our timeline for this approach?
What activities can we do to include younger members of family-in-laws/blended family members beyond the family meeting (so if they’re not included, they don’t feel excluded from all activities)?
Where should family meetings be held?
If the purpose of the family meeting is to have everyone feeling comfortable and talking freely, then the location of the meeting should support that. It may also be helpful to ask family members who will be attending if they have a preference.
Here are some other considerations:
Neutral location – This one is really important as to not trigger any kind of reaction. For example, a vacation home may not be the best idea as it may not be neutral to all because some family members may get to use it more than others.
Distractions – In order for the meeting to have the best chance of success, try to have as few distractions as possible to make sure everyone stays focused and committed. The family home may not be optimal as you could get distracted by phones or doorbells ringing, pets, visitors, etc. Likewise at a place of business, people could get called out of the meeting to deal with business issues.
Privacy – Family members need to feel safe to talk freely so choosing a place that invites open conversation is best.
Ambiance – Natural light, comfort, access to healthy refreshments all contribute to creating a setting conducive to open, honest dialogue.
Conference calls – If a family member can’t attend in person for whatever reason and needs to conference in, just be sure to establish some call etiquette to keep things fair. For the caller, because background noise can interfere, it’s best to choose a quiet location and use the mute button when not speaking. They will also want to make sure they’re in an area that has good reception and that they turn off distracting apps and alerts.
What should the family meeting agenda be?
This is a critical tool to help you manage what you’ll actually be discussing as a group. Follow these important steps to ensure the best chance of success and minimize the possibility that the meeting will go off the rails.
Agendas should be:
Inclusive – Take the time to create an agenda collaboratively with all in attendance so everyone knows what will be discussed. It’s a lot easier for family members to get behind issues rather than being blindsided come meeting time. It also ensures that everyone in the family is respected and heard.
Transparent – The key to having a successful meeting is to have no surprises. When everyone knows what will be discussed, they have time to prepare accordingly.
Diverse – While not all topics can be discussed at one meeting, the agenda should reflect the diversity of interests of all family members and not just those who are the most senior.
Timely – The agenda itself should be circulated well in advance of the meeting so everyone has time to think about what will be covered. It’s also a good idea to allocate time slots for each agenda item to be respectful of everyone’s time and to keep things on track. Make sure to leave a little breathing room around each topic so people have time to share their feelings.
Managed in expectation – It’s really important that everyone in attendance share a common understanding of expected levels of engagement on different topics. The meeting will quickly derail if expectations are not met. To make sure everything is clear from the start, label each agenda item with its intended purpose: for discussion, for information, for decision-making or for learning.
Actionable – Family members will get tired pretty quickly if there is no momentum. To keep things moving, it’s important to be clear about who is doing what, by when and with what resources, then document accordingly. This will help make sure everyone knows what they have to do and take it seriously.
Reflective – No family gets it right every time. After the meeting is over, it’s a good idea to ask yourself and the others, what’s working/not working, what would make these meetings even better and what needs improvement.
What happens when matters arise which are not on the agenda?
Typically, family meetings are forward-looking, discussing what the members want to have happen and then building a strategy to achieve it. When past issues are brought up that could derail the meeting or new ideas emerge that are valuable but not necessarily on the agenda, a Parking Lot can be a useful tool. To do this, keep a flip-chart labeled “Parking Lot” handy when taking notes. Any topic that threatens to knock the meeting off-course can be noted so the person feels heard but will be discussed later to keep the meeting on track.
Remember, families by their very nature resist formality. Yet for family meetings to serve their purpose, it’s very important for them to be structured appropriately. Without structure, default pattern behaviours can take over and nothing gets accomplished.
Interested in reading some tips on how to ensure things go smoothly?
Read Part 3 of our Family Meetings series: 8 Communication Tips For Running Successful Family Meetings
BMO Private Wealth would like to gratefully thank Ruth Steverlynck of Your Family Enterprise Advisors for her efforts in preparing this handbook, and for her many contributions to our industry and the families we serve. We would also like to thank Jim Grubman of Cambridge Family Enterprise Group and Thayer Willis of Willis Management for sharing their tips on hosting effective family meetings, and Dennis Jaffe for his work supporting families of wealth as they navigate effective transition.
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