ILMA Compoundings - October 2020 - 38

BUSINESS HUB

Family Business Meetings:
In Person or Virtual?
By Barbara Dartt and David Karofsky

I

n planning your next family
business-related meeting - be it a
board meeting, shareholder meeting
or family retreat - you're likely to
run across a dilemma: Should this
meeting be in-person or virtual?
This choice, especially if it will be
made by an owner or family group, is
a logical one to tackle by consensus.
And because folks are forming opinions about the personal and group
safety implications of gathering in
person with a lot of emotion - fueled
by widely varying levels of knowledge,
understanding, risk tolerance and fear
- this decision has the potential to be
very divisive.

FACTORS
There are several factors to consider
when deciding to have a meeting via
video or in person. For the purposes of
this article, we have grouped them into
"hard" and "soft" factors. Each medium
(video or in-person) has strengths and
limitations, and any successful decision
on which medium to use will consider
both the hard and soft factors.

Hard factors
Regulatory and health status. Of
course, you'll need to follow applicable
regulations in planning your meeting.
If any attendees have compromised
health, an in-person meeting that
meets all regulatory guidelines might
not be a reasonable choice. Within
the factors and decision-making steps
discussed below, we've assumed you've
cleared these two hurdles and must
have a more nuanced discussion.

38

OCTOBER 2020

| COMPOUNDINGS | ILMA.ORG

Meeting purpose. The first question
we encourage families to think about
is the purpose of the meeting. If the
purpose is to review some data and make
decisions on the business, video might
actually be the most productive medium.
We have found that attendees are
often more focused on efficiency during
video meetings. Meetings that used to
take an hour are getting completed in
30-40 minutes. This increased efficiency
is sometimes because the medium
doesn't provide a comfortable venue
for small talk. When attendees talk at
the same time, we usually lose what
everyone is saying. Also, any technology
lag makes us unable to respond to body
language or voice cues.
At the same time, the difficulty in
engaging in a comfortable back-andforth makes it hard for some folks
to be heard. Over a series of video
meetings, we might miss important
details in individual perspectives in
exchange for this increased efficiency.
As such, if the purpose of the meeting
is to address critical strategic initiatives
balanced with the complexity and

differing perspectives of an ownership
group, the meeting may be better
served in person.
State of the business. When conflict
is hot or the business is facing severe
financial or operational challenges,
families are sometimes willing to tackle
conversations in any medium.
When held from individual screens
and from separate rooms, we have found
that video can offer some real advantages when talking about contentious
topics. The physical distance of video
can make it easier to share perspectives
and opinions with less emotion.
With appropriate preparation
and facilitation, video meetings can
advance discussions, even when pain
and urgency are high.

Soft factors
How well does the family communicate? While we know we can always
get better, we also have to be honest
and aware that effective communication is difficult regardless of the
medium we are using. When choosing the most effective medium, we
encourage you take into consideration


http://www.ILMA.ORG

ILMA Compoundings - October 2020

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