Beating a Hasty Retreat: Using a Family Company Retreat to Improve Your Family-Owned Business

Posting by Joel C. Susco, CPA, Principal

Ah, the business retreat.  It seems to offer something fun and stress-reducing, like travelling to a beautiful, peaceful destination and partaking in some team-building games by day and cocktail parties by night.  But there are often more business-related events planned, whether or not the participants are made aware of this in advance.  Fans of the show The Office witnessed a company retreat where leadership succession was being determined by the winner in a series of ridiculous challenges.

Family-owned businesses, as we keep seeing, have many similarities with other businesses, and yet that family aspect brings on its own set of benefits and challenges.  The Washington DC Family Business Alliance has found that all the other family business resources continually stress the importance of succession planning, strategic planning and improved business communications.  The unique characteristics of the family-owned business, such as facing nepotism, inter-family squabbles, and the business roles of different family members and their spouses, could also benefit from planning and troubleshooting.

A family retreat or other meeting on neutral territory can be the ideal setting to have these important discussions on family goals, future plans, confronting negative family interactions, and preparing the current generation for stepping down and the future generation for taking over.  In this manner, these hot topics can be addressed away from non-family employees who do not need to be made aware of the personal side of your family-owned business, and be free of distractions and interruptions.  Preparation of all participants is essential; there should not be any “surprises” that may put some family members on the defensive.  It often helps to have a neutral “outsider” be the facilitator for this retreat; when a family is together in one place, familial roles often take over, and a neutral third party may be able to garner consensus for these important issues.

Your goal is not to hold a dysfunctional family reunion, but family reunion cabins are a good resource for finding a place to hold your retreat.  Google “family reunion retreat” along with your desired region to quickly find some viable locations for your family business retreat.  Who knows, you may get a lot of important work done, and bring your family even closer together at the same time.

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