Family Meeting Fundamentals

May 17, 2017 04:12 PM

Involve all stakeholders and pick a neutral location

The succession-planning process is complex and lengthy. To keep your eye on the ball and meet your goals, your family must meet regularly to foster good communication and trust. 


For family meetings to be successful, you need to set clear goals and expectations, says Johnne Syverson, a family business consultant with Transition Point Business Advisors in West Des Moines, Iowa. 

“It is really important to determine the outcome you want from a family meeting,” Syverson says. “So often, I see families who want just one meeting that encompasses everything, and you just dump on everybody. Then they’ll go home confused and sometimes agitated.”

Explain to your family you want to talk about the future of the farm, suggests Shannon Ferrell, ag law professor at Oklahoma State University Extension. Invite all stakeholders, including spouses. 

“No one will cause you more trouble in this process than someone with an emotional stake who isn’t included,” Ferrell says.

Then select a date for the meeting. “Do not have this conversation at a holiday,” Ferrell says. “Yes, it’s convenient, but there’s already enough emotional charge around holidays. Let’s not add to that.”

Choose a neutral location. “Pick a comfortable place, but not anyone’s home,” he says. “You want the place to be free of distractions.”

Set an agenda with a reasonable number of topics, Syverson says. In almost all cases, it is best to bring in an outside facilitator. “Mom or dad have too much of a dog in the hunt. It is kind of emotional, and they’ve not done this before,” he notes. 

It might take a few sessions for participants to rally around the value of meetings. “Open, honest communication before and during the meeting is really important because it’s communication and trust that hold families and family businesses together,” he says.

Ground Rules for Productive Meetings

Ahead of your next family meeting, set rules all participants can agree to follow, recommends Johnne Syverson, a family business consultant with Transition Point Business Advisors. Here are some examples:

Only one family member talks at a time. 

Everyone has an opportunity to speak. 

What is said in the meeting remains in the room, unless the group decides to do otherwise. 

No one blames or attacks others. 

The discussions stay on topic.

Participants talk openly about what they think and how they feel. 

The group seeks consensus, not a simple majority rule.


Back to news



Spell Check

Rodney Hogen
Fargo, ND
4/6/2017 09:28 PM

  My Parents Will was simple.....the estate is to by equally divided half to me (the farmer) half to my brother (city guy). We were both to be the Executor of the Estate. The first thing the attorney said, that it only takes one person to do the paper I made the mistake of withdrawing and my brother was appointed sole Executor . My brother said he started to do research on my Mother check book and found that two government checks totaling $90.00 was missing and didn't get deposited in Mothers checking account. He didn't have any proof what happen to the check....but assumed I must have taken it......Well....Mother must have cash it herself and just to the money. My brothers other problem was that I didn't pay enough rent for the last 30 years.....Well.. the contract said what I should pay....and it can't be changed after the fact. And that was also the verdict of the Judge. That I did nothing wrong and ordered the estate be split like the Will said. The attorney should have informed my brother that you need proof that I took the government check....not just assume.....and that a contract cannot be broken. Why? It's all about money.....not what I or my brother would receive....but the attorney for the Estate. The bill is now over $750,000.00 for attorney fee's that my brother rack up.....and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It's been 10 years.....we have been to the Supreme Court once and will be back again in a couple of months. It's been an unbelievable nightmare. My suggestion is to have that talk with your parents...and siblings.....and do it before it's to late.


Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by
Brought to you by Beyer