The Best Family Business Meetings

What's To Talk About?

  • First stages. If a family is just initiating family meetings, agenda items dealing with how the meetings will be conducted are especially useful, says Keyt. Be sure to discuss the following:

1. Who will participate in discussions? Spouses? Ex-spouses? Children older than 15? Family members in the business but without ownership interests?

2. What are the ground rules for the discussions? What happens when someone gets abusive or otherwise out of line? What agreements should be made about confidentiality?

3. Who will facilitate the meetings? Do you need an outside facilitator? Is someone within the family skilled enough for this role? Should you rotate facilitators for each meeting? Should you have co-facilitators? Will the facilitator or the group set the agenda?

4. What expenses of the family meeting will be paid for by the business? Golf fees? Personal items purchased? Travel expenses? Expenses attributed to a significant other?

  • Later on. Issues that involve both family and business abound, so there shouldn't be a shortage of topics to discuss. The business' financial information will probably always be on the agenda, as will an updated report of industry trends. It's also important to re-evaluate whether members fully understand the business' mission and are living by the family's values. Beyond that, any of the following topics could be discussed and then acted on:
  • a family employment policy
  • issues surrounding succession
  • a family compensation policy
  • how to mentor the next generation
  • prenuptial agreements for family members
  • what to do if one family member winds up in a position of extreme financial crisis
  • how to handle substance abuse among family members working in the business

Family meetings are also wonderful times to provide meaningful educational experiences, schedule training sessions to hone skills and foster family development. So you could, for example, bring in advisors to lead discussions on the roles, rights and responsibilities of shareholders; help everyone improve their negotiation skills; or lead the group in various team-building exercises.

The meetings can also serve as classrooms, providing members with an opportunity to discuss subjects that relate to the family members' well-being, such as whether to have sessions with a behavioral-health consultant to discuss healthy lifestyles, in light of a family's health history. And many families find it enriching to add the family history to the educational segment; for example, they might tell funny or moving stories about the founder's early years and later incorporate the stories into a written or videotaped family business history.

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This article was originally published in the November 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: What's On The Agenda?.

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