Like church and state, key business discussions are for the boardroom – not the holiday dinner table. Scott McCulloch reports.
There’s nothing like a holiday to get the whole family around the dinner table.
Too bad it happens infrequently. Harris Interactive finds most American families eat a single meal together fewer than five days a week.
Journalist Michael Pollan, an expert in food and agriculture issues, estimates that 20% of Americans’ meals are eaten in cars.
But holidays are special, right? They are. Especially for enterprising families.
Families that eat together, the received wisdom goes, stay together. Dining together strengthens bonds. For young children, routine family meals provide a feeling of belonging.
In a Columbia University study, 71% of teenagers said they consider talking, catching-up, and spending time with family members the best part of family dinners.
But what happens when coveted family time – that special holiday gathering – goes all business?
Countess family business advisors caution that a holiday dinner is rarely the time to raise a pivotal issue or initiate a potentially explosive business discussion.
Save those subjects for formal family meetings. Setting aside time for business discussions throughout the year is good practice. But separate them from holiday celebrations.
That’s not to say that a family can’t ever talk shop around the dinner table.
A dinner table conversation is a way of getting the family business into the children’s blood, says Bill Venter, former chairman of South Africa’s Allied Electronics Corp., a $2.4 billion electronics group.
“It’s also the ideal opportunity for children to become familiar with the scope of the business, identify with values and culture, and start shaping their talents for possible future participation in the business,” Venter argues in his University of Johannesburg doctoral thesis.
“Lack of fluent communication among family enhances the conflicts they face.”
Here’s a question: Avoiding talking about business at home improves family relations – myth or reality?
Myth, says Boston-based Family Firm Institute. “Lack of fluent communication among family members enhances the conflicts they face.”
Informal dinner table meetings set the mood that families need in order to take a deep dive into conversations about shared values and vision.
Of course, formal meetings are necessary. At a minimum they prevent misinterpretation of information delivered.
For business families, a meal gathering can be as effective as the common business lunch. It puts parties on equal footing, at ease, and ready for a shared experience with captive time.
If in doubt, take the church and state approach: keep special occasions loving, and leave serious business for the boardroom.
Communications and Conflict Management for Business Families