Tips for multigenerational family meetings

Different generations discuss family matters in a positive way

Focusing on inclusion, understanding, and innovation can benefit participants from all generations.

Photo of Gary Shunk
Gary Shunk,
Family Dynamics Consultant,
Wells Fargo Wealth & Investment Management

Television shows and movies seem to have given family meetings a bad reputation, showing eye rolling from the rising generation and frustration from parents and grandparents. But done well, these get-togethers can provide opportunity to enhance communication among family members, educate the rising gen as new stewards of wealth, and enhance decision-making — all with the aim of a healthy family legacy.

Here are some ways your family can create a forum for sharing news, concerns, opportunities, and challenges in an open and direct way.

Include and engage

The makeup of family meetings should reflect the family as a whole. In fact, many families of wealth see these meetings as a way to introduce their rising generation to the basics of family finances and family traditions. Being at the table with family decision-makers, their advisors, and relevant stakeholders can provide a prime learning experience and help establish opportunities for growth.

To set expectations and encourage preparation, communicate a clear agenda with defined goals before every family meeting. Who sets the agenda and goals? Encourage active involvement by inviting all participants to contribute ideas for current interests, needs for action, and other concerns they want to address. Who finalizes the agenda and leads the meeting? That may be a patriarch or matriarch or a trusted advisor, or the role may vary depending on the agenda and the needs of your family.

Manage expectations

This is a time to draw closer by sharing what matters most as a family, so creating a respectful space for sharing is key. Your family can manage those expectations by setting ground rules at the initial meeting and sharing them as more members prepare to join future meetings. Here is a starting list of potential ground rules to consider:

  • Come prepared to engage with the topics at hand.
  • Give everyone a chance to share perceptions and ask questions on whatever topics the family is facing together.
  • Use “I” statements rather than speaking on behalf of others who may not agree with you.
  • Limit use of personal devices to encourage active listening and acknowledgement of each other’s words and feelings.
  • Choose neutral settings for in-person meetings (a private club or hotel meeting room, for example).
  • Leverage technology such as virtual meetings when family members cannot be physically present in one location.
  • Agree on meeting frequency — quarterly, semi-annually, or annually — based on decisions that need to be made.

Be innovative in teaching about legacy

Everyone in your family may be at least somewhat familiar with family lore. But relating to their own role in growing the family legacy over generations may be more difficult. Sometimes it is helpful to use family meetings to mark a tradition and to share important stories about family legacy like these:

  • The story of how our family wealth began
  • One piece of wisdom or advice passed down from one generation to the next
  • Family traditions and why they are important
  • Long-standing family values around money
  • The charitable causes that matter most to the family
  • Lessons learned about investing

Your goal is for everyone feel connected to the impact the family has had — and can have in the future. Consider discussing your needs with your advisor, who can introduce you to a family dynamics specialist if appropriate.

Keep discussions actionable and ongoing

With active engagement, a family meeting does not have to be a confusing, methodical, or boring event. In my experience, families who express love, character, and creativity through these interactions find that they share family values and goals. And as you work together to extend the impact of your family for generations to come, the meetings may become more fruitful and enjoyable.

Wells Fargo Wealth & Investment Management (WIM) is a division within Wells Fargo & Company. WIM provides financial products and services through various bank and brokerage affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company.

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