Family meetings just make sense

Regardless of the size of your dairy farm, if there are family members involved – directly or indirectly – with the business, it is important to conduct regular family business meetings.
The excuses are endless for not having them, including: “I’m too busy.”; “We tried them before and they didn’t work.”; “Why should I care what my son-in-law or daughter-in-law thinks about this farm?”
These are just a few I’ve heard, and you can probably think of others, but conducting these meetings can help avoid future problems and maintain peace in the family.
Opportunity. There is no one, single definition of a family business meeting that applies to everyone. However, in its simplest form, a family business meeting is an opportunity for family members to come together on a regular basis to discuss issues of importance to all members.
The purpose of these meetings is not to discuss routine, day-to-day matters, but rather to look at the “big picture,” long-term plans for the business.
Some families hold these as little as once a year, while others may meet on a more regular basis. This often is dictated by particular circumstances the family and business are facing.
I’m sure many of you have been to meetings where you felt as though you were there because the meeting was scheduled, but there was no real purpose.
Agenda. To avoid this situation, have a written agenda of the items you wish to discuss and establish a starting and ending time – and stick to it.
The agenda lets people know the reason for coming together and should be distributed one week prior to the meeting. As you develop the agenda, ask other family members what items they wish to discuss.
Asking for input from others helps to achieve buy-in and makes the process easier.
Questions often arise about where to hold the meetings. At a minimum, find a location free of distractions – telephone and visitors – and make the environment comfortable.
Some families choose to get away for a weekend at a hotel or state park. This probably isn’t practical if you meet several times during the year, but an occasional “retreat” can do everyone a lot of good.
Transition. One of the real advantages to conducting regular family business meetings is the opportunity to plan for the transition of the farm and its management to the next generation.
Too often, if at all, family meetings happen only because of some unexpected change like the death of the senior manager. In these cases, there are often a number of questions that arise that could have been discussed through regular family meetings.
Whenever you have two or more people involved in a discussion, there is always the potential for conflict and stress. In some families, when in-laws are added to the discussion, the situation can become even more stressful.
The question about whether to include in-laws in these family business meetings often arises. I strongly believe they should be a part of the discussion. There is a high likelihood that they will learn from their spouse what was discussed and what decisions were made, so they might as well be involved from the start.
Additionally, they may have some excellent ideas to bring to the discussion.
More information. If you are interested in more information on this topic, see Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet Conducting Successful Family Business Transition Meetings, available at http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu or contact your Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and natural resources educator for assistance.

About the Author

(Chris Zoller is an agricultural extension educator in Tuscarawas County and a member of the OSU Extension DairyExcel team.) More Stories by Chris Zoller

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