No, You Don’t Need Another Family Meeting

(Or, Common Pitfalls of Family Business)

If you’re the leader of a family business, you’re probably familiar with an interesting phenomenon known as “the family meeting.”

It seems simple and innocent enough. A family meeting happens when one or more family members calls for a special, impromptu meeting between all members of the family in the business.

Issues are discussed. The meeting concludes. Sounds helpful.

But is this trend actually a pitfall that could harm your family business?

While an occasional family meeting (especially around a sensitive or important topic) is more than understandable, I’m increasingly distressed by the frequency at which many family businesses are resorting to sudden and repeated family meetings. It’s as if, whenever a new issue, conflict or miscommunication arises, an imaginary bell rings and a family meeting must suddenly take place.

Knee-jerk family meetings like these do little to actually help the family — or the family business. They can actually harm your leadership, set back your managerial processes and turn your work days into forums of angry debate.

Here’s why.

Even when a family meeting is held and framed as a business issue, it’s usually only masking an underlying family issue. It’s not the business that’s being discussed. It’s tensions in the family that are being aired out.

Worse, this type of tension-packed environment threatens to erupt in bursts of emotion. Think about it. When any meeting is called so urgently, the surprise and anticipation can stir fear, anger and resentment — before the meeting even begins.

You Don’t Need Another Family Meeting

If family meetings aren’t natural and normal, maybe it would be best to avoid having them altogether. Under the surface, frequent or special family meetings are most likely the sign of a broader problem: someone in the family has an issue, and he or she wants a forum to (a) express his or her opinion, and (b) bring other family members into the fold.

Can you see how quickly this can spin out of control?

1. First, family meetings create the impression that every issue is deserving of a family meeting. This is simply not true.

2. Second, family meetings can be dangerous, opening the door to more family issues leaking into the business.

3. Third, family meetings provide a false impression that the family has direct influence over the management of the business.

As more family meetings occur, the line between business issues and family issues continues to blur.

Boundaries matter. Because you have a business to run.

Without boundaries and solid governance, your job as leader of the family business will become nearly impossible. Falling into the “family meetings” trend can seriously threaten the integrity of you as the leader of the business. Not to mention, they plain ol’ over-complicate all management decisions that affect the entire family business, from top to bottom.

Remember: boundaries exist to enable the business to grow and prosper. If the family continually places its needs above those of the business, the business will eventually shrink and fail. The family is there to serve the business. The business is not there to serve the family.

As the leader of your family business, you need to be diligent and protective of the boundaries that keep family issues separate from the business.

Looking for a solution beyond family meetings? Here’s my advice:

● First, attempt to resolve an issue with a family member one on one. Avoid simple emails. Pick up the phone.

● Second, consider asking a board member or a high ranking executive to join you in the meeting in order to show the family member that you’re taking the issue seriously.

● Third, gather the appropriate board committee together to address the issue. This is where good governance comes into play. The key is to be proactive. Make sure that the family member’s issue is being addressed. Problems don’t usually disappear. They get worse over time. Very often, people just want to be recognized and heard.