Ira Bryck–business facilitator, writer of three plays on family business, radio show host, and so much more–surely knows what it is to wear many hats, specifically in the realm of family business. On May 22, he invited the audience to jump in with questions and comments as he began his presentation on family meetings, the second presentation in Family Business Alliance’s four-part series on Best Practices.
“What is a question that doesn’t get asked at family meetings?” Bryck got the audience thinking before revealing the question: “What makes you the boss?” He went on to say that often times, the answer is simply that everyone else in the family has passed away. “Ask the sticky questions,” Bryck said. Ask the questions that members want to know, but are afraid to raise.
Sticky questions can begin with young family members; Bryck said to have conversations with them about the family business. Allow them to grow up knowing what’s going on, so they can solve complex problems that arise within the business when they get older. Have them work on projects with cousins, for example, so they can decide if they enjoy working together. Allow them to figure out if the family business is their calling. This will set the family up with solutions and plans early on in case young family members decide they don’t want to be a part of the business. You can start deciding: Is it a failure if the business doesn’t continue to the next generation? Can we sell the business?
Bryck pressed on the importance of all necessary people being at family meetings in order for the sticky questions to not only be asked, but to be properly addressed. Serious reflection must take place to ensure that no one who should be present is left uninvited. Should spouses attend? Children of a certain age? Outsiders or experts? Non-family owners? He stressed that sometimes you’ll need to involve estranged or contentious individuals, and pointed out that sometimes this will help to avoid lawsuits.
Bryck added that people tend to ask the sticky questions only if a facilitator is in the room. The facilitator need not (and often should not) be the leader or manager of the business. It can be a teenager or an in-law, or family members can take turns from meeting to meeting. The facilitator should allow for everyone’s voice to be heard.
Once all necessary people have been involved, you need to create urgency, Ira emphasized—identify goals and communicate why they are crucial. Decide what topics should be discussed in order to emphasize the urgency.
Bryck noted that at different stages of the business, you probably will need to have different types of meetings. He encouraged family businesses to hold family meetings not only when they are struggling or dealing with problems, but also when things are going well. “Build immunity,” he said. Create an effective and relevant plan. He stressed the importance of creating a mission statement as a family. Pitch ideas together and discuss values until you arrive at a statement that speaks to what the family wants for the business.
Ira closed the presentation with an analogy, saying that family meetings may not feel natural. For some people, going to the gym every morning is natural, but for many of us, it is not. However, the fact that it doesn’t feel natural doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to be highly beneficial.
At the end of the Bryck’s presentation, FBA Chairman of the Board Bill Muir introduced FBA’s new CEO: Diana Schad, who greeted everyone with energy and excitement for the future of FBA.