Observing a recent discussion between the children of a
successful entrepreneur, I was reminded once again of the potential
impact of different family members being provided with differing
levels of information about the family enterprise.
As is the case in many families, not all members of this family
always had access to the same information. Some had chosen a career
outside of the family enterprise, while some had been given the
opportunity to enter into the business as an employee (an
opportunity others might even have wished for).
The fact that some family members were rather well informed,
whilst others weren't, had a particular impact on how each
member defined his or her attitude towards family meetings and what
could come out of them.
This became clear during some of my initial meetings with the
different family members. Those historically less informed felt
less well-equipped to contribute to the meetings and as a
consequence, some were less inclined to participate. By contrast,
those who were better informed tended to forego brainstorming and
think in 'turn-key' solutions instead - they thought they
knew best because they knew most.
As a result of this, we decided to spend some time with the
family focusing on the lack of information some were facing. The
process to address this included giving those in need of
information the opportunity to ask 'everything they always
wanted to know, but were too afraid to ask'. Those well
informed were given the opportunity to share whatever they felt was
important to know before contributing to decisions on the future of
the family and enterprise. One can imagine the elephants in the
room that were discussed! Some illusions were shattered, some
mysteries were unravelled, and a few myths were validated (whilst
others most certainly weren't).
Having smoothed the way ahead, the discussions could continue on
a level 'information-field', and the issues caused by the
previous information inequality (such as feelings of being not able
to contribute to discussions because of a lack of knowledge, or
worries that individuals contributing to decisions were not
sufficiently well-informed) were all significantly reduced.
Crucially, while sharing information itself was useful, on a
deeper level, it was the increased ability to verbalise needs and
fulfill these needs in a respectful and collaborative manner that
really brought the family together even more.
Make the way forward as smooth as possible.
Prevent some members of the family from being held back by their
relative lack of information, whilst preventing others from hiding
behind their knowledge, thinking they know best because they know
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
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