Family-Owned Business: Putting F.U.N. into Your Family Business Meetings

Family-Owned Business: Putting F.U.N. into Your Family Business Meetings

Last week I introduced my blog’s newest series on family-owned businesses. We discussed being leaders worth following and leading with integrity. This week it’s important that we dive into the details of your business so that you can walk away with some actionable steps to help your business succeed.

As I sat 35,000 feet above the ground on my flight back from Miami to Indianapolis recently, I asked myself this question: How do we put FUN back into our family business meetings? It something that my family members and I have been discussing for some time now. It’s because my grandpa Chester started his business over 60 years ago and grew the family business into five different entities. Now we have the 3rd Generation (3G) wanting to be a part of the business.

Another important question I asked myself was: Are family business meetings supposed to be FUN? Finally, I faced this very tough question: How do I get the 3G interested in the family business, have fun during the family business meetings, and still be productive?

5 Family Meeting Tips

With all this in mind, here are my thoughts and some ideas that the Rust family has been incorporating over the last 20 years or so:

  1. The first thing that we have been doing for some time is taking the meeting to a different location each year. Having the annual meeting in a board room at the office is boring. It doesn’t give a lot of time for socialization. Especially, if your family is spread out across few states such as ours. We have adopted the “every other year rule.” Our grandparents are living in Southern Florida and we do our annual meeting closer to their home every other year. The off year we typically take a trip to a great destination. We’ve done some great resorts over the years.
  2. Second, the trip is anywhere between three to five days long. It’s enough time to get the meeting done, do some family bonding, and go on an adventure or two.
  3. Third, the meeting can’t last all day! This is a big one. It’s hard to keep the attention of everyone for a long-period of time. My suggestion is that meeting goes no more than 4 hours and that it is the first thing in the morning. Provide a breakfast to start and some snacks for a middle-of-meeting break. There should be a point in your family meeting for what we call The Annual Check-In. It’s where each family member gets to explain to everyone what’s been going on in their lives for the past year. We try to give about 3-5 minutes per member. Then of course you spend time with all the members at dinners and your adventures the rest of the trip. Plus, down the road it’s always fun reading the meeting minutes on what was told the year before.
  4. Next, if you have kids under 21-years-old in the family attending the meeting, spend time answering their questions. They should learn at some point about P&L’s, spreadsheets, how the family business works, the family trusts, and other business matters. Spend some time explaining to them the various aspects of the business. As they get older have your family’s financial advisor, controller, or lawyer sit down with them and help them understand how things work specifically for them.
  5. Finally, pass along a project for the youngest generation to complete to get them more involved in the business. For example, our family has a foundation that we created to give back to Christian charities locally and internationally. This year our four youngest cousins were charged with creating a PowerPoint on a charity they would like to give to and then we voted on whether to go with that charity or not. This helps keep them engaged, helps them develop presentation and researching skills, and most importantly how to give back. Philanthropy is a wonderful way to get younger generations a way of feeling a part of something.

F.U.N. Meetings

Meetings are not always fun, but there should be an element or two implemented to keep it interesting, educational, and productive. Starting this year, I am going to incorporate more fun into the business meetings. Here’s how I am going to keep doing that:

F: Family Centered—make sure to socialize and connect with each member on the trip. My Aunt Celeste mentioned about doing a progressive dinner at a restaurant one night. We would mix up the tables so we sit with different members during the appetizers, dinner, and desert courses at different restaurants. Another way to connect deeper with each member is to do activities that everyone can attend. This year ten of us went deep sea fishing and had an exciting time, while others went scuba diving, but we all met up at the same pier to share our stories on the ride home. As a family we attend Church together on Sundays while on vacation as this is a cornerstone in our family and our business.

U: Understanding—make sure all members understand the various parts of the business and the importance of these meetings. Learning is key! Keep the youngest generation engaged. Also help those marrying into the family business understand what is going on as well. Spouses want to support the family members and with them informed they can also learn how to best help in their supportive role.

N: Neatly Organized—your family meetings need an agenda to start. If you are doing a vacation you need an agenda for the entire trip. Plan not only the meeting agenda. Plan where you are staying, travel arrangements, where you are eating, celebrations of family member milestones or accomplishments, activities, etc. This year we celebrated two of our cousins graduating from high school. Then mail or email the agenda a week or so in advance to everyone. Have hard copies for each member once at the meeting.

If you are leading a family-owned business and know you may need some extra coaching to get your business to soar, CONTACT ME.

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