Conduct a successful family meeting

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I’m too busy. We’ll start after the corn is planted and the hay is made. We tried them before and they didn’t work. We’ve never needed them before. We all get along. Why should I care what my son-in-law or daughter-in-law thinks about the farm?
These are just a few of the excuses people give for not conducting family business meetings. You can probably think of others.
However, conducting family business meetings can have a positive influence on the success of your business.
Let’s take a look at some reasons to consider holding these meetings.

Building a stronger family
Family meetings can give individual members an opportunity to develop leadership, conflict management, listening, speaking, and management skills.
They can also help members understand their role in the successful transition of the business and can help them to develop strategic, capital, estate, or succession planning knowledge.
Meeting together as a family on a regular basis can help members understand what it is they all have in common that will make succession smoother and the business successful.
Throughout the process members will learn a lot about themselves and the business.
Although conflicts will still arise, the purpose of these meetings is not to focus on the conflict, but rather to focus on building a stronger family through open and honest discussion.

Building a stronger business
Not only can these meetings benefit family members, they can also send a message to employees that the family is committed to the future of the business and helping their employees be successful as well.
Family members who have been involved in the process early on and are well-informed are more likely to promote effective planning for the successful transfer of the business.

Plan future business ownership
Too often, if at all, family meetings happen because of some abrupt change like the death of the senior manager and some issues faced at this time may not be handled as well as they could have been had family members been involved in discussions and planning about the business and its transition to the next generation.
Regular family meetings can help answer questions about the present owners’ financial needs and goals along with those of the next generation.]

Plan family participation
This can be a difficult decision for many families, especially when spouses are involved or children are not actively involved in the business, but have their own ideas about the future of the business.
Which family members should be involved? Are in-laws welcome to be involved in discussions?
What if there are conflicting goals among family members? What if a family member doesn’t have the ability to successfully manage the business?
The earlier you begin holding effective family meetings the earlier you can avoid potential conflicts.
Allowing young children to be involved in discussions helps them to better understand the business, decide what future they have in the business and helps parents determine the commitment of their children before making plans for expansion or other change in the business.

Open the succession process
Unless it is clearly obvious and communicated openly who the next successor of the family business will be some members may question how and why the decision was made.
Family meetings provide a way to communicate how the process was done and why the decision was made.
Explaining that the process was carefully and objectively made with a clear plan in place can go a long way in avoiding hard feelings or misunderstandings.
Family meetings can also send a message to family members that the new successor will be accountable to the family business.
Family meetings can also be useful if there is no obvious family successor.
In this situation family meetings can help to develop alternatives such as naming a non-family successor or liquidating the business.

Recognizing, resolving conflict
It is no surprise that conflicts arise in every family business and if disputes over the future of the business – which family members are involved in the process, succession, family members’ roles in management, or other issues are allowed to multiply, they can only divide a family and do nothing for the long-term success of the business.
The key to resolving conflict is to acknowledge it early on in the process and to realize it is normal.
If you are dealing with a particular issue that may cause real conflict the use of an outside, objective facilitator may be helpful.

Learn more
If you are interested in learning more about this and other topics that will help make your business successful for future generations, consider attending the OSU Extension workshop, Building On Your Success As A Family Business, to be held March 24 in Ashland County.
Contact the extension office in Ashland, Muskingum, Tuscarawas, or Knox counties for registration information.
(The author is an agricultural extension educator in Tuscarawas County and a member of the OSU Extension DairyExcel team. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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