How To Run A Family Meeting About The Hard Stuff

| Succession, Farm
How To Run A Family Meeting About The Hard Stuff | Munro's Family Farm Advisory

One of the key components in the process to formulate your family farm succession plan is the family meeting. You need this because everyone involved should be on board with the plan otherwise all you have is a piece of paper. But get this wrong and you may not even get as far as the piece of paper.

Using a Facilitator

There are very good reasons why businesses often call in consultants to facilitate important planning meetings. An outsider can be more objective which helps create trust in the integrity of the process and helps diffuse potential conflict between interested parties. The consultant acts as facilitator and provocateur to ensure that all bases are covered; and will also provide technical input where needed. Handled properly by an experienced facilitator, this meeting can also be a great team builder and powerful motivator.

The facilitator provides structure to the meeting whilst maintaining the right level of freeform informality appropriate to the occasion. When Munro’s assists clients with this process, we give the meeting feedback on the introductory work undertaken by us prior to the meeting including appropriate findings from the situation and stakeholder analyses. This forms a starting point for the conversation, and after further exploration of these topics in the meeting, allows us to start the process of discussing the future.

Getting the Mechanics Right

As with any endeavour, preparation for a meeting of this nature is important. Inviting the family over for a barbie and then springing a family meeting on them is not going to work. For a number of reasons:

  • It’s on Your Turf: It is usually best to find an attractive venue away from the farm to do this. If you meet around the kitchen table at home, people subconsciously assume familiar roles and this becomes counter productive. In a sense, it creates rank, and this is not conducive to the free flow of ideas. You probably won’t hear what people really think. No real thought, no real plan.
  • It’s on Your Terms: For family members to buy in to any plan, they need to own it. They are not necessarily going to own the plan if they see the process as something contrived by you to achieve your objectives. As part of the preparation for the meeting, Munro’s spends time with each family member getting to know them and getting to know their aspirations and concerns. This process introduces the idea of the family meeting as a means of airing everyone’s views and giving equal importance to those views in a meeting. It becomes everyone’s meeting.
  • Participants Won’t Be Prepared: It is very important that everyone participating in the meeting has had time to think things through and where necessary do some research or other preparation. So that when we get to the family meeting we get to discuss real concerns and the best ideas.

And Finally….

Give the meeting the time it deserves. Allow time for ideas to percolate. Have natural breaks for food and drink, and if necessary be prepared to devote time over two consecutive days for the process. Whether or not you will need all that time will depend on your particular family dynamics and Munro’s will guide you on that too.

The Family Farm Survival Guide

In this guide, we explore the four big questions around family farm survival:

  • When do we really need to be thinking about long-term, inter-generational survival?
  • Who does this affect?
  • What are we going to do about it and what does “fair” really look like?
  • How on earth are we going to do this?
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