COLLABORATION: Best Practices For FEAs
Pulling together in the same direction by engaging the intuitive principles and effective protocols of the consensual collaborative process, FEAs and family enterprises can bring to the surface shared values, reignite channels of communication, and rebuild withering trust entwining and across family and business relationships. The collaborative process is inclusive and supports families ready to receive and understand best practices, resolve conflict, and find a durable path through paradoxes arising where individual family members and their business interests intersect.
Family-based issues cannot be resolved in the abstract and without transparency. We acknowledge that one advisor does not have the breath, depth, or the expansive experience essential to provide impactful business advice for the decision makers and all that family relationships entail. Ensuring readiness to transition from a solo trusted advisor to welcoming and integrating key advisors’ perspectives as a cohesive Collaborative Multidisciplinary Team (C/MDT) is a first step. From there, using the steps of Strategic Advising the C/MDT to begin the authentic involvement of cross- and intergenerational family members towards a strong collaborative network capable of making inclusive decisions, managing paradoxes, and resolving conflict.
Collaboration goes beyond ad hoc committees and annual family meetings. Its application is foundational and rooted in the family’s belief that each family member’s engagement brings value and innovation, reinforces hard earned trust, builds stewardship, and accountability. That engagement addresses an appreciation and affirmation of each individual’s viewpoints, their responsibilities and accountability towards the goals of the business and towards other family members. Its strategic, incremental, and once implemented, a sustainable family process.
“Being heard is a powerful draw to taking part and participating in a meaningful way.”
FEA Engagement Contracts will include Collaborative Best Practices and the FEC’s Principles of Practice as well as each advisor’s professional Codes of Conduct. That span of guidance will be mirrored in appropriate fashion in the family enterprise’s governance policies, rules, plans, which at their essence are communication and decision protocols and at their pinnacle, the family’s unifying constitution or similar document. From the family’s roles and perspectives in leadership, ownership, and management, the integration of the collaborative process will prove invaluable through all three circles. All three circles where family members participate and lead.
Best practice protocols will be unique to each family and developed with their input and decision. Investment in exploring each family member’s aligned and surfacing divergent interests incites new discussions, looks forward, and encourages synergy of values. Being heard is a powerful draw to taking part and participating in a meaningful way. While dissent may linger, shared understanding develops. From shared understanding a process acceptable and perceived as fair by the family moves collaboration to consensus.
Effective Communication Guidelines
One dominant aspect of collaboration is communication. Our speech, communication styles, and how we approach challenges and conflict are being watched by family members all the time. Choice about what conduct becomes acceptable and appropriate behaviour is a function of the Collaborative MDT (C/MDT). To set and maintain that standard, we need to be at all times self-aware and mindful of the words we choose and our mannerisms while engaging with family members in all their roles to positively reinforce ‘our brand of collaboration’. See Collaboration: Do No Harm.
The Richness of Collaboration
The richness of collaboration is the knowledge and insights sharing from the other advisors. It’s knowing when one advisor appropriately takes the lead with the agreement of the others. As the C/MDT, our approach to the family balances the contributions and involvement of each team member. While not every advisor will be needed in every consultation the family seeks, a quick survey among the team members may divulge a hidden expertise or related interest whether it be process, content, or context. Working as a solo advisor may require extended time to network and outsource competent assistance.
That richness flows into the collective experience of the C/MDT that to support the family by hearing and empowering all family voices rather than suppressing or ignoring dissent or trying to encourage their alignment of the family’s viewpoint. The C/MDT, with the client’s informed consent, can become agents of positive change.
Leadership in Content and Process, Not Decision Making
There will be variances in how each advisor tackles their assignments and how they assess what outcomes are required. Learning about each team member’s ways will be ongoing; process corrections will happen and in-team discussions and constructive feedback will occur. With the family’s knowledge and informed consent, C/MDT members may leave, ad hoc C/MDT participants will step in until the deliverable is concluded, and new advisors will join. The family decision makers decide within the parameters of the contract.
Application of the Four Stages of Strategic Advising: Entry and Contracting, Discovery, Analysis and Feedback, and Implementation highlight collaborative best practices. Some offerings:
- Contracting may be a master contract covering best practices, scope of the advice, identifying who in the family are the decision makers, timelines, communication preferences, confidentiality, receivables, and other generalities with appendices for each advisor’s particular role, fees and payment, and other individual expectations,
- Reliance on the shared deep learning of the business and the family from different experiences and professions,
- Comprehensive discovery with an inventory of questions spanning general background to genealogy to a full coverage of the business, ensuring the clients full opportunity to move from needs to wants and dreams,
- respect for differing opinions and expertise,
- cooperation in analyzing, distilling, and developing innovative potential options for resolution, and
- honing team skills to navigate and realize the family’s needs and demands.
“Leadership is in providing reliable relevant content and managing the collaborative process across all stages of Strategic Advising. Decision making is in the hands of the clients.”
There will be variances in how each advisor tackles their assignments and how they assess what outcomes are required. Learning about each team member’s ways will be ongoing; process corrections will happen and in-team discussions and constructive feedback will occur.
- Participants are the drivers; attack the problem, not the person Family members will be alert to any dredging up of past transgressions and they know the positions each personality in the room will want to champion. Facilitate the focus of the meeting on the interests of each family member distinct from their positions. Managing emotions and mental health issues are outside the agenda. Seek the family’s permission to bring in a counsellor to privately support those members struggling emotionally and ensure confidentiality.
- Keep the past in the past When even a hint of a recycling of the past comes to the fore during a meeting or conversation, advisors can remind the speakers that the problem is the center of everyone’s attention. The person is not. Finger pointing, ‘he said – they said’ recitations, or offhanded groans don’t move any agenda item forward. They incite and negatively change the atmosphere. A short break or a restart of the agenda topic using neutral language reintroduces the energy of collaboration and cooperation.
- Commit to the fullest development of choices and alternatives before clients make decisions The collaborative process meshes with Strategic Advising ensuring the production of facts and knowledge first, analysis, and options generation before any decisions by the client decision makers are made. When family members are eager to share their decisions early in the consultation, the offer is declined. Being mindful of the potential for bias, undue influence, a balanced outcome, conflicts of interest, and interference /noise requires premature or early offers are respectfully held back from being presented and caution is rendered to thwart private alliances.
- Recognize and respect the family’s process needs working to the pace of the slowest participant: Readiness to embrace a new model of C/MDT, collaboration in general or new best practices takes time and that pace needs to be acknowledged and respected. Trainings, seminars, storytelling, and other teaching tools can support the family as it learns and begins to practice a new process or tune up the process in place which may have fallen into disrepair.
- Distinguish and clarify the roles and boundaries of the C/MDT and those of the client family: What happens in the C/MDT (presenting data, challenges, strategies for managing deadlock, roadblocks, inclusivity, etc) isn’t always shared with the clients; whereas what the clients express is always considered by the C/MDT.
When do we introduce C/MDT to our clients? Now. Now, when we are first introduced to the client. We integrate these principles in our conversations and in our trainings. Once self-awareness and mindfulness begin to catch the attention of our established clients, we invite them to explore with their trusted advisors a new approach to working with them as a C/MDT with all advisors pulling in the same direction. It’s a shift in paradigm not in principles, values, or professionalism. Outcomes may shift to adapt language, inclusiveness, and innovation. Now, that makes a lot of sense.
Lorisa Stein is a senior collaborative practitioner, cross cultural anthropologist, consensual dispute resolution readiness and management consultant, policy analyst, and advisor.