Keeping A Geographically Dispersed Family Engaged

Living in the same city as the rest of your family is a huge advantage if you’re trying to run a family business. It’s much easier to get people connected socially and assemble them for business meetings. But there are also advantages to being geographically dispersed.

Far-flung families make the most of their time together

One advantage is that people have to step away from their daily lives when they gather for meetings. It’s easier to focus on the business when nobody is distracted by their day jobs, their pets, their regular social lives and hobbies. Meetings scheduled for a geographically dispersed family tend to be longer and more content-rich, because the organizers are motivated to make the travel worth it. Plus, events will get better attendance because everybody’s a captive audience.

Another advantage is that social connections can be formed more quickly when the time together is concentrated. Remember how close you were with your friends from summer camp? Family meetings can have the same quality, as people take advantage of the opportunity to have fun together at dinners out, planned events, and activities geared toward the kids.

Keeping connected between meetings

The challenge of being geographically dispersed is to have a continued conversation about the business remotely. How do you keep the business and family governance top of mind?

I recommend these techniques to keep the conversation going throughout the year.

  • Make a communication plan so you’re sending messages at consistent intervals, rather than sending a barrage of emails one month and nothing the next.
  • Use webinars and conference calls to talk about family business topics and train rising leaders.
  • Schedule quarterly debriefs with the CEO or chairman of the board, and ask the CFO to present a quarterly financial overview.
  • Post crucial information on a web portal so the whole family has equal access to important documents.
  • Write a quarterly newsletter with an overview of major developments, and link to more detailed documents on the portal.
  • Send a postcard each quarter listing upcoming events and calling attention to key announcements. This is useful for family members who are less comfortable communicating online.
  • Start a private Facebook page for the family. Sharing photos and personal announcements is a great way to strengthen relationships and engage the younger generations.

Families have to work harder at being inclusive and transparent if they live far away from each other. But even simple strategies like using webinars and conference calls to work on solving problems can help build relationships and get people engaged about topics they’re passionate about.

When the family has opportunities to think about the business throughout the year, they’ll be able to work together more efficiently and effectively when they get together for annual meetings and other events. Ongoing conversations through Facebook make it easy to stay in touch with people’s lives in between meetings, reminding everyone that you’re family first and business partners second.

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