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How to run a Family Meeting

New Zealand is one big farm. The majority of farming is done by families (long may that remain). So it may follow that New Zealand agriculture is one big farming family? It's a bit radical but it's probably quite true.

With families in land and cows there are always going to be issues. Families are going to have expectations, hopes and dreams, arguments and unhappiness. It is almost inevitable.

The problems are not the issue; it's how we solve them that is pivotal. Pivotal because there are people and emotions involved and I see it with my work every day. Emotions play a huge part in how we function. Logic often flies out the window and emotion takes over bringing upset, tears, anger, anguish, and so on. Sound all too familiar?

Family meetings are one of the best ways to resolve some of the issues.

So how do you do it better?

  • Call the meeting and nominate who is to attend;
  • Create an agenda in writing so everyone knows the game;
  • Start with tea or coffee to break the ice;
  • Keep away from the issues while you have tea and coffee;
  • Nominate a chairperson or bring an independent facilitator in. This comes highly recommended;
  • Have some agreements before you start;
    • The Speaker - The person who is speaking has the right to the floor and must not be interrupted.
    • That everyone will actively listen.
    • That there are no dumb questions.
    • That family stuff can only be fair but may not be equal.
    • Respect each other and recognise their opinion is important.
    • No blaming or shaming.
    • We are only human.
    • Everybody's perception is their reality. That means that how we see the world is our reality. How someone else sees the world may not be how you see it.
    • Change is hard.
    • That issues may not be resolved immediately.

So now the meeting is underway and what's happening?

  • Be aware that the bossy ones will talk first.
  • Encourage them all to speak at a speed that can be understood by everybody.
  • Make sure everyone is actively listening and ask for clarification of any points.
  • Encourage discussion from everybody.
  • Watch out for the less vocal people who may be withdrawn. Ask them for their opinions. Be careful how you manage them as they may be full of emotion and stop talking as soon as challenged. Tears are often inevitable and a handy box of tissues is very important.
  • Try to draw out issues you are discussing.
  • Avoid waffle and tangential discussion. In other words, keep everybody on the subject.
  • Ask questions.
Concentration can last about an hour so it may be time for a break after an hour. Go for a walk around the house, have more tea or coffee and so on.

Breaks also give you time for thinking and assembling your thoughts. Two hours is about as much as most people can handle of concentrated discussion and meetings. For some it is a lot less.

If you see you are losing a member of the family go back and ask them how they see the issue. You might be quite surprised what comes out.

When concluding the meeting have a quick brief on what has been discussed, thank the family for their contribution and be very sincere. Cover off what has been basically agreed to and carry forward any issues to the next meeting.

In summary, families run New Zealand agriculture. Families are like any group or body of people. They need structure and meetings. Meetings can be very difficult and stressful but the results can be nothing short of spectacular. Getting the issues out on the table can often give people a great sense of relief and they go away from the meeting literally dancing.

Getting an independent expert facilitator to attend the meeting can be a very good move and funnily enough I really enjoy doing this work.

Finally, realise it is an important part of any family business to have meetings and realise the first meeting will probably be the hardest.


 

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