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How to Facilitate Family Business Meetings


Expert Author Denise Federer

High net worth families can realize significant benefits from scheduling annual family meetings, and advisors can add value to their relationships by having the ability to facilitate these important gatherings. While wealth management will always have a place on the agenda, when family meetings are expanded to discuss more than money, they can provide an unparalleled opportunity to build stronger family cohesiveness.

One of the most important things a family meeting facilitator must do is ensure all the participants have equal standing. Another is conducting some pre-meeting due diligence, interviewing various members to become familiar with their personal agendas, hot buttons, and views on legacy (values, traditions, wishes to be fulfilled, meaningful family possessions, and financial assets). You want to enter a family meeting with a goal in mind, and "surprises" can derail its achievement.

Typical family meeting goals include:

  • Creating a framework for the optimal development of family financial interests
  • Sustaining the value of the family legacy
  • Keeping the family together
  • Supporting individual members in meeting their goals and potential
  • Setting expectations and responsibilities for family members

It's up to the facilitator to guide the family in a goal-oriented manner by providing an opportunity to recognize and resolve conflicts, preserve family values, and share family history so younger generations can gain an understanding about the commitment they need to make to the family. A family meeting also allows for older members to help children prepare for managing inherited wealth, and provides a formal setting in which to organize the family's thoughts and mission in the form of educational projects, philanthropic efforts, and mission and wealth statements.

Facilitators will be tasked with managing family members' expectations, and before any discussion begins, they'll establish ground rules such as:

  • A meeting timetable/length
  • Meeting topics
  • Confidentiality expectations
  • Focus on active listening
  • Keep an open mind
  • Make "I" statements (rather than blaming or attacking)
  • Create an action plan to follow up on each topic

Facilitators must be engaged to be successful in this essential role, and they need to constantly find ways to add value to the family. One tactic they might suggest is connecting family meetings with social gatherings, something that can have a positive effect on mindsets and result in more productive sessions.

As a business advisor, you need to look at family meetings the way a CEO would look at company strategic planning meetings. They provide an unparalleled opportunity to clarify vision, enhance communications, discuss potential challenges and create tactical plans to successfully execute goals, while also facilitating the all-important dialog between the older and younger generations.

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