As individuals and couples become more serious about stewarding wealth properly in their families, the topic of family meetings will inevitably come up. In fact, many individuals and couples seem inclined to hold family meetings as a mechanism to develop and foster the type of values and unity they ultimately desire. So when is the right time to start family meetings?
As with many of the topics addressed on this site, there is not a single answer — but I submit that family meetings need to be intentional gatherings with defined objectives. Families are made up of disparate viewpoints, life circumstances, perspectives, etc. Consequently, and especially with multi-generational family meetings, it is difficult to gain clarity simply by gathering together. Someone needs to take the lead, and some work should be done in advance of the family meeting to identify and communicate what it’s for and points of commonality that will be foundational to the meeting. For this reason, rarely should the family meeting be the first step.
So what should be done in advance of a family meeting? Here are a few thoughts:
- Take stock in where you and your family are.
- Consider where you want your family to be.
- Solicit the input of other family stakeholders regarding such matters as appropriate.
- Determine the gaps between where you are and where you, as a family, want to be.
- Identify strategies to close those gaps, and have those strategies represented at the family meeting.
- Identify what family meetings would look like if the family was at a more ideal point. Are there stories, activities, traditions that should be incorporated in advance of achieving a preferred family circumstance?
As a caveat, however, I should be clear that the type of family meetings I am speaking of are inclusive, full family meetings. Certainly smaller groups of family members meeting together can be very effective in coalescing family virtues, values and perspectives.
What experience have you had with successful or unsuccessful family meetings? Did a lack of clarity impact how much was achieved?
Mark, really important points in this post. I recently spoke with a couple who own a business and are 70 years old. Even at 70, they still think it might be too early to share their thoughts on the future of the business with their children. Meanwhile, their children, several of whom are employees in the business, are uncertain of their parents’ motives and goals. There is a lack of communication and, therefore, a lack of trust between parents and children. The parents don’t realize the impact of their lack of communication has on their children. The communication has to start much earlier before the lack of trust becomes a problem for all of them.
Appreciate your perspective, Dean. It certainly is tough for many to pull the trigger and start discussing their finances or perspectives on the business, etc., with the next generation(s) or business successors — and we shouldn’t minimize that (I know you’re not). But the potential costs are quite high for failing to do so. Hopefully we can assist those that struggle with this issue to rightly view and act the potential trappings of failing to open the dialog further!
Mark, well written & always on point as usual. Thanks for communicating your thoughts on this important topic.