The dynamics of managing a family business are always going to be different from a venture between strangers. One of the key first steps is making sure that the family aren’t strangers to each other’s goals and desires. Setting up a family council to deal with the business’s affairs, separately from the rest of family concerns, is a significant first step.
Communications in a family business may be worse than in any other company. Among the reasons for setting up a family council, the team should consider: how the business should have its own space and not just be mixed into wider family gatherings; why every family member needs to understand their rights and responsibilities; how it clarifies the borders between the business and the family and to allow all members of the family, including those at junior levels in the business or those outside it, such as spouses, to air their views; and how it should generate a shared vision and guide its development.
If it is to achieve its aims, the family council will need the buy-in of all involved and will need to be run appropriately. It’s an investment not just in the future of the business but of the family too, and
should be treated with the respect that deserves. Taking professional advice on how to structure the meetings, and engaging a professional facilitator to keep things running smoothly, will be a worthwhile, or even essential, expense. While bringing an outsider into the meetings may feel odd to some family members, it will help to reinforce the importance of meetings, and also to confirm the distinction between family and business for those involved.
There are a number of practical points to bear in mind too. Meetings need to be held somewhere neutral, so that everyone feels able to contribute equally. Set up a proper agenda and timetable and stick to it. There should be a council chair who runs the meetings and has the scope to keep the discussion moving. To make sure that the council is a long-term success, start small and settle simple issues. That will give everyone a chance to see that the council can work, and the confidence to address bigger long-term considerations.
Meetings need to be held somewhere neutral, so that everyone feels able to contribute equally