When I was a kid I used to love Sunday afternoons. My parents would take us out to eat after church, usually at Chace’s Pancake Corral in Bellevue, WA. I would stuff myself silly with strawberry waffles and then go bowling or some other family activity for the rest of the afternoon.
Life was good and I figured that was how it was always going to be, until one weekend when my parents decided we needed to start having family meetings.
I was in middle school by then and they explained to my sisters and I that we were old enough to take on a larger share of the household chores. Worse, they even made us responsible for the meeting agendas, note taking and even began doling out fines for leaving lights on and dirty dishes in the sink. Where were Child Protective Services when we needed them!
Somehow we survived and looking back on those meetings, I realize now the wisdom in what they were doing from an entirely different perspective. Certainly, as my wife and I have raised our three kids we have found regular family meetings to be very beneficial in our kids gaining a sense of responsibility and accountability (sans the fines of course!). The bigger insight for me, however, came when I began facilitating Family Council meetings, and how similar the process was to the meetings my parents started with us years ago.
When you boil it all down, at its core it is about alignment. Getting clarity on what the goal is and then getting everyone behind what family is all about. The obvious difference between the family meetings I grew up with, and the Family Council meetings we are assisting with today is there is a whole lot more at stake. Regardless, they both begin in the same place and underscores the wisdom of what my parents taught us—create a space for the family to have healthy conversation. Healthy conversation that establishes the guidelines for how we can talk about the hard stuff , while respecting the dignity of each person and their right to have input.
It begins with setting the vision for the family and continuing to check in and talk about things that matter. It establishes the responsibility that each member has in stewarding the resources of the family. This is what Family Council is all about.
No matter how your family is structured, whether a family of one, or of many, following are some simple steps to create the space for your Family Council to get moving:
1. Commit to meeting – As Pythagoras wisely once said, “Beginning is the half of everything.” Commit to meet as a family and the intention from the decision will put all kinds of things into motion. Determine a frequency that the family members are willing to sign up for. I would recommend more than once a year, and a quarterly meeting is a good frequency to start with until you can determine if less, or more are needed based on the situational needs of the family
2. Get clear about your Why – Every successful Family Council has a clear purpose that keeps them centered and willing to endeavor for. A good primer on this is Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on the Golden Cirlce (you can find a five minute clip on YouTube explaining this). While he presents this in the context of business, I believe it is as applicable to the Family Council as anything. Admittedly it is not easy to define, even for businesses, however your Family Council will be incredibly effective in accomplishing its long-term objective if it can define it.
3. Determine guidelines on how the family will play fairly – Nothing destroys a well-intended effort more quickly than bad behavior. Decide together how the council meetings will be conducted and what the ground rules are for contributing, while maintaining dignity in the process. An easy place to start is the Reader’s Digest 12 Golden Rules for Conversation, of which you can find with a simple Internet search. The reality is, this is not a one-and-done topic, but one that will take continued effort to keep the family members engaged and contributing equally in.
4. Keep meeting – Energetic starts are too often followed by dispirited demises. No matter how challenging the circumstances, lean into it and keep going. Keeping the conversation focused on family’s Why, while observing the guidelines. Your effort will be rewarded in the long run.
And as always, if there is anyway we can help with your conversations, please don’t hesitate to ask. We are here for your success!