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The Coronavirus has brought the wellbeing of family relationships, and the fragility of our health to the forefront. Many people are taking advantage of these slower times to update their estate plans and wills. Those documents are designed to protect the family assets. We suggest that now is also the time to also have broader conversations that will prepare the family for the assets. The silver lining of the Coronavirus is the spotlight it shines on the urgency to take steps now to prepare families for wealth transition. One way to do that is by installing healthy communication habits for virtual family meetings to keep relationships strong.

While we are apart, The Williams Group is doing our part to share best practices for holding virtual family meetings. Families are increasingly coming together for a virtual happy hours, holiday, and birthday celebrations. Now that this practice has become more familiar, it is likely going to stay with us for a while. Even as restrictions begin to ease, families will continue to have virtual family meetings. It is easier to schedule a meeting on short notice to make important decisions, people are often more relaxed and able to participate more freely, and much less expensive than bringing everyone together.

Family businesses disrupted by the new normal are also having to come together virtually. Updates normally provided via in person meetings are having to shift to online meetings. Keeping everyone focused, productive and able to make decisions quickly in these stressful times is vital. Family business meetings can have their own challenges such as one person dominating the conversation without much opportunity for input. Over time individual participation is curtailed, perhaps due to distance, timing, or they simply don’t feel their voices matter. All of these issues can be magnified in a virtual setting adding stress to family relationships on top of the stress the business may be experiencing.

As Aristotle once said “We are what we practice” so let’s make sure we are practicing the right things. Below are five tips to keep virtual family business meetings focused, productive and engaging using the acronym HABIT.

H – Homework! Do your homework prior to the family meeting and ask each person, individually, “If you were going to run this meeting, what would you cover and how?” We often ask this question, and are often surprised by the topics, and excellent recommendations. This is a great way to ensure everyone has a voice and can see their concerns will be addressed.

A – Accomplish. At the start of the video call, do a round robin and ask each person “What do you want to say you have accomplished by the end of this conversation?” Be sure to record all of the comments, and then check in at the end of the call to see if each person’s goals were met.

B – Boundaries. Keeping the call safe for each person to feel comfortable contributing is vitally important. Toward the beginning of the video call, ask what people need to feel comfortable speaking up. You might hear things like “I’d like to make sure we stay on track” or “It is important for me to not be interrupted” or “I’d like to know we will begin and end on time”. Inviting everyone to co-design how they want the conversations to be managed will help them be more willing to step into the conversations.

I – Involve. Giving people active roles on the call will enable them to see how they can contribute to the success of the call overall. For example, if one person is given the authority (role) to speak up when the topic drifts to another topic, they can help with the overall satisfaction of the entire call. Another person can be in charge of tracking action items discussed, and another might have the job of scheduling and pulling the agenda together.

T – Tune-up. Perhaps the most important step is at the end. Ask each person to say what worked well for them on the call, and what would be even better next time. This way you can continually improve how the conversations happen in the future.

These five steps will ensure your virtual family meetings are focused, productive, and engaging. Along with these five steps, some other techniques we have found helpful include: inviting family members to take turns organizing and running the meeting, pick an online platform that works for everyone (Zoom, Facetime, Microsoft Teams, Go To Meeting etc.). It is important to stop the conversation and check in with each other to make sure everyone is still on the same page. Ask everyone to be on video as much as possible, and have a back up plan if the connectivity is interrupted,

They will enable you to not only make sure the important topics of the family business are addressed, but also protect the business of the family by keeping relationships strong. If there is a silver lining in the Coronavirus, it is that families are proactively engaging some of those challenging conversations they have been avoiding regarding the transition of family wealth. We strongly encourage you to use this time to have the important conversations to prepare your families and next generation before it is too late. Now is the time to have the conversations about wealth transfer to prepare the next generation.

Lets start a conversation. Give us a call to explore how you can get the conversation started with your family.