Involve all stakeholders and pick a neutral location

The succession-planning process is complex and lengthy. To keep your eye on the ball and meet your goals, your family must meet regularly to foster good communication and trust. 

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For family meetings to be successful, you need to set clear goals and expectations, says Johnne Syverson, a family business consultant with Transition Point Business Advisors in West Des Moines, Iowa. 

“It is really important to determine the outcome you want from a family meeting,” Syverson says. “So often, I see families who want just one meeting that encompasses everything, and you just dump on everybody. Then they’ll go home confused and sometimes agitated.”

Explain to your family you want to talk about the future of the farm, suggests Shannon Ferrell, ag law professor at Oklahoma State University Extension. Invite all stakeholders, including spouses. 

“No one will cause you more trouble in this process than someone with an emotional stake who isn’t included,” Ferrell says.

Then select a date for the meeting. “Do not have this conversation at a holiday,” Ferrell says. “Yes, it’s convenient, but there’s already enough emotional charge around holidays. Let’s not add to that.”

Choose a neutral location. “Pick a comfortable place, but not anyone’s home,” he says. “You want the place to be free of distractions.”

Set an agenda with a reasonable number of topics, Syverson says. In almost all cases, it is best to bring in an outside facilitator. “Mom or dad have too much of a dog in the hunt. It is kind of emotional, and they’ve not done this before,” he notes. 

It might take a few sessions for participants to rally around the value of meetings. “Open, honest communication before and during the meeting is really important because it’s communication and trust that hold families and family businesses together,” he says.


Ground Rules for Productive Meetings

Ahead of your next family meeting, set rules all participants can agree to follow, recommends Johnne Syverson, a family business consultant with Transition Point Business Advisors. Here are some examples:

Only one family member talks at a time. 

Everyone has an opportunity to speak. 

What is said in the meeting remains in the room, unless the group decides to do otherwise. 

No one blames or attacks others. 

The discussions stay on topic.

Participants talk openly about what they think and how they feel. 

The group seeks consensus, not a simple majority rule.