As part of my work supporting and advising business owning
families, I have come across some remarkable stories. In fact, I
find there are always remarkable stories behind family
businesses and I frequently encourage families to celebrate these
stories, believing that sharing them contributes to the deepening
of connections, the transmission of values and the passing on of
How to get started
There are informal and more formal approaches to storytelling;
which one you choose depends on what suits your family. For many
families I work with, storytelling is already an inbuilt part of
their culture, with tales and jokes repeated over dinner and
narratives frequently repeated. For others, it could be valuable to
deliberately put some time aside whether at a family meeting or in
a more casual setting to share family stories to make sure that
they are getting the most out of learning from their collective
Although storytelling is very powerful on a one-to-one basis,
family meetings and gatherings can be a particularly good
opportunity to share stories. If you choose the more formal
approach, I've found that it is very helpful to give family
members notice in advance, so that they have time to prepare. It is
also useful to give people some specific guidance – make sure
you explain why you are holding a storytelling session, and what
the focus is - perhaps the rationale is to share with the next
generation how challenges in the business' history were
overcome, or perhaps your storytelling is part of a process to
define the family's values.
Putting aside the time for celebrating the founder's
journey, the second generation's struggles or the third's
triumphs is a critical component for building mutual understanding
in any family so whether you are a small nuclear family or a family
with 50 + shareholders, getting together to share and talk, laugh
and cry together can be very powerful indeed.
Including the next generation
I have seen story telling work especially well when family
members are involved at a young age. You can encourage involvement
by providing opportunities for them to share their own family
stories and experiences, such as an 'open mic' setup.
Family meetings with a mix of family members - 8 to 80 year-olds -
sharing views and perspectives, can be very bonding. If you think
the younger generations are not quite ready to contribute, they can
listen to their elders tell the stories of their predecessors. It
is a particularly positive experience for them to hear senior
relatives' anecdotes about lessons learned and hardship
overcome. Families do sometimes make the mistake however of only
honouring stories from the founding generation. More recent stories
should not be undervalued; an important part of succession can be
the creation of new stories that pick up and sustain the
family's common values and legacy.
Telling stories as a business owning family can be very
powerful. It can forge closer connections, teach the next
generation about the values of the family and can pass on wisdom
from one generation to the next. Often however, setting aside time
for this sort of pursuit falls off the agenda when there are
important commercial decisions or tasks to be completed. Therefore,
I would like to encourage you to deliberately put the time aside
for story telling – at your next family meeting or annual
gathering why not design a session around your family business
stories? You might just be surprised by the impact and engagement
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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