A Deeper Dive into the Family Meeting Agenda

In recent emails in our Family Legacy Planning series, we stressed the importance of ending each family meeting by setting the agenda for the next family meeting. We recommended that the agenda topics for the first family meeting be more visionary or lofty, aimed at identifying a family’s ethos and shared values. As the meetings proceed, the family is ready to tackle more informational topics. At the conclusion of each meeting, poll the group to find out what issues are top of mind. Ask questions like: “What are you thinking about these days? What subjects would you like to explore?” The facilitator can then help the family reach a consensus on the topics for discussion at the next meeting.

Consider these suggestions:

  • Update on the family’s business operations
  • Plans for management succession
  • Overview of the estate plan
  • Review of the family’s philanthropic history
  • Patriarch’s presentation on mistakes made and lessons learned
  • Introducing the family to its team of advisors

As to the last suggested topic, many younger generation members aren’t acquainted with the family’s advisors. Lacking an understanding of the role they play, there is a tendency to replace the advisory team when the older generation is gone. Doing so deprives the family of advice from a team with valuable historical perspective. The family meeting is an ideal environment for younger family members to get to know the family’s advisors and learn the importance of working with a team of trusted advisors.

Topics such as these not only help a family learn who it is, but it also opens up lines of communication. Family members get to know each other on a deeper level and begin to develop trust. Recall that a breakdown of communication and trust is responsible for 60% of family failures. Families who become more inter-connected provide each other with meaningful support, especially during stressful times. Those families are better equipped to beat the odds of “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”

ONE FINAL TIP: I want to share a recommendation from a very wise client (and longtime friend of mine) who is a veteran of the family meeting process. (Thanks, Bryan.) On the day following a presentation by the family’s advisors, the family regroups on a follow-up call. Each shares what they heard and learned. Often a family member who was reluctant to ask questions in front of advisors is more willing to open up in a family-only debrief. Such a follow-up meeting insures that everyone heard the same thing and provides a chance to clear up any ambiguities. Now the family is moving into an important realm of lifelong family education: becoming skilled at teaching each other and learning from each other.

Marvin E. Blum