Ever watch a TV show where the characters hold a family meeting? Families on TV hold meetings a lot. Sure, you can imagine these on-screen family meetings reflected real life to a certain degree back in the early days of TV and even into perhaps the late 1970s and early 1980s. Certainly today’s TV shows that feature a family meeting are significantly less a reflection of real life on the other side of the screen. Have you ever held a family meeting? An official family meeting. No Robert’s Rules of Order, of course, but still organized enough to be a reflection of family meetings on TV shows?
No? Well, here’s some advice on how to do get it done. And you just might be surprised at the outcome. A family that is running smoothly and efficiently is likely to be a family that holds regular meetings to discuss a variety of issues and not just the bad ones. A major problem is that most families don’t really know how to hold family meetings in an efficient and effective way.
The first step in getting your family humming like a Cadillac is to establish a place inside the house where the family meeting will be held. Make this meeting location comfortable enough that everybody can attend without being too confined, but not so comfortable that relaxation tends to beat out the task of the meeting. A family should meeting should also be a place where no cell phones are allowed, no television is running even silently and the computer screen is out of sight.
All good meetings in the business world contain an agenda. A family meeting doesn’t have to go all out and produce a formal agenda. The family meeting agenda should ideally list just the topics that need to be discussed. A good way to attack the problem of the agenda is to set up a dry erase board on which everybody can add their own particular subject of concern. This method also produces the effect of getting family members to think about the upcoming topics ahead of time rather than having those topics dumped on them by surprise at the meeting.
Meetings have rules, but you can feel free to ditch Robert’s Rules of Orders. Get everyone in the family involved in drawing up a set of rules by which the family meeting must be held. Things to include in the rules include when and how often a meeting will be held, who can call a meeting, will there be guidelines for who gets to speak and when and what happens if someone absolutely cannot attend the meeting. There will be times when a family meeting is absolutely of the highest priority, but somebody just isn’t available. Prepare in advance for this element.
Shorter is better when it comes to family meetings, but you don’t want to sacrifice things actually getting done just so you can move on to whatever activity really interests you. A set in stone time deadline is not a good idea since some meetings will require longer periods of discussion than others.
When it comes to the discussion aspect of a family meeting, you want to have introduced rules that make it clear that even though everybody gets a say, that say doesn’t extend to insults. Keep the family meeting positive and away from personal attacks. Set some penalties in place for family members who break these rules. Discussion should commence with the most positive topic at hand; one that just about everyone will be in agreement on. Move from the least contentious to the most contentious topics of conversation so that, if things do get out of hand, you will have at least accomplished something during the family meeting.
The first few family meetings should be held with one or both parents acting as the boss and facilitator. Once the family has settled into a solid routine of how meetings go, allow other members, even the younger ones, to have their turn as boss of the meeting. A number of psychological advantages can come from doing this and you stand to lose little since you can always feel free to take over from a boss who isn’t getting the meeting done.
Minutes of the family meeting are generally not necessary, but it is a good idea to keep a book on what was covered at each meeting and how any voting went if applicable. The notes don’t have to be a Stephen King novel; you can easily get away with writing notes that would Ernest Hemingway would consider too pared down. Get the basic ideas down as well as what was accomplished and how. This book is a good idea so that you can refer back to it during future discussions that cover the same kind of topic or when a family member insists they didn’t agree to this, that or the other.