How to Organize Effective Family Meetings

Christina Wing
May 17, 2024

70% of family businesses fail generational transfer. This failure is attributed to many different reasons, but a common theme is the failure to talk about the future. In numerous cases, a succession plan was started too late, or not at all, because it wasn’t talked about.

Family businesses offer a unique intersection between the personal and the professional, and this makes having difficult conversations, especially those about governance and succession, more challenging and emotionally charged. To address this and minimize the emotional impact, dedicated family meetings are a great way to create a forum to set your family and business up for generational success.

Attendees & Leadership

The first step to a successful meeting is to identify the attendees. For many families, this will include those members over a certain age, say 18 or 21. Other families may choose only those who are actively involved in or have equity in the business. Including spouses in the family meetings is a personal decision but care should be taken before doing so. Including spouses can add unique dynamics to the discussion and in some cases could potentially cause conflict or strife with other members.

It is also important to determine who will lead each meeting. Many families choose to rotate the leader of the meeting or have members of the younger generations act as the facilitators to gain leadership experience. The leader should oversee staying on time and topic and can also take minutes for future reference.

Establish Expectations

Establish and revisit family norms before, during, and after the meeting occurs. While most people at the gathering will have been to a professional meeting before, things are more personal with family, and it can be more challenging to remain focused on the matter at hand. Discuss with attendees what norms can be followed during meetings. Questions you can consider are:


Work with your family to figure out the date, venue, and duration of the meetings. Many people will often make the mistake of trying to have family discussions during social events, like a family dinner, or ad hoc conversations when everyone is together. But to ensure success and minimize disruptions, the best practice is to set the meeting well in advance, which allows everyone to mentally prepare for a serious discussion. Some families, out of convenience, may choose to conduct these meetings during the holidays or before family dinners. If so, consider a hard break between the social aspects of the gathering and the meeting’s formal agenda. Whatever your family decides, intentionally creating time for the meeting will ensure your family gets the most out of it.


Although the tone and subject of meetings will be unique to each family, having an agenda is one of the keys to a successful conversation. Each meeting should have a pre-set agenda, shared with all attendees beforehand. Poll the attendees ahead of time to figure out what topics people might want to talk about. Make sure to build in time for questions and recaps of previous family meetings. This can look something like:

Sample agenda for family meeting

The agenda does not have to be set in stone, but having an idea of what needs to be discussed going into the meeting will ensure that your family maximizes their time together to solve the issues that need to be addressed instead of potentially getting off-topic and into areas which some might not be prepared to discuss.

Family Councils 

If your family is larger and consists of many generations and branches, consider the creation of a family council. Family councils are a subset of family members, such as heads of each family branch and possibly their spouses, instead of everyone in the family. Many families choose to elect who participates in the family council during a family meeting. Examples of what might be discussed during a family council meeting:

After the council meeting, the family will reconvene in an all-family meeting to vote on any decisions that need to be made. When families are larger, it can be much more difficult to come together for a family meeting to discuss sensitive issues, such as governance and succession, productively. Family councils mitigate this issue and streamline the decision-making process for the family.


“When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short-term comfort for long-term dysfunction.” – Peter Bromberg

Successfully navigating the various personalities and perspectives of different family members can be a challenge in the best of times. When the complexities of a large family business are added in, family dynamics become more vexing. Avoiding those tough conversations leads to longer term failure in the transition from one generation to the next. Utilizing family meetings, and running them effectively, gives your family the best platform to have difficult dialogue, address complex issues and put the family enterprise on the best possible footing for future generational succession.

Madeline Tolsdorf collaborated in the writing of this article.

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About Christina Wing

Christina founded Wingspan Legacy Partners to help Founders and Families navigate the intersections between Family dynamics, business operations, wealth, legacy and philanthropic impact.