Keeping business meetings productive is always challenging, but for family businesses the task can be even more daunting. Here are some suggestions to make sure the next family business meeting you organize stays on track:
1. Always schedule the meeting for a fixed period of time, use an agenda, and stick to it. The meetings should be held in a comfortable, neutral location, away from work and everyday demands.
2. Appoint someone to take notes.
3. Use a formal set of ground rules to guide the interaction. You can distribute the ground rules during the meeting. These ground rules should include an agreement to listen closely to each other, refrain from interrupting, and demonstrate respect toward others even though you may not agree with them.
4. Understand the difference between consensus and agreement. I have seen many misunderstandings develop from the incorrect belief that everyone must agree in order to pursue a course of action. To the contrary, people don’t have to see things the same way (agreement) in order to concur on a course of action (consensus).
5. In order for the meeting to be valuable, there must be considerable trust and positive intentions among the family members in attendance. One way to establish trust is to make the first meeting an opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard. If attendees can leave the first meeting feeling listened to, you are on the way to building trust.
These guidelines for structuring a meeting are simple and straightforward, but do not underestimate the value that structure brings. While the initiative for having a family business meeting should come from members of the group, the structure must come from the organizer—it takes discipline to stick to your guidelines, but straying from them will reduce the likelihood of accomplishing the goals that you set for yourself.
David Lansky, Ph.D. Founder Family Business Innovations Highland Park, Ill.