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Why share your family and business stories

As part of my work supporting and advising business owning families, I have come across some remarkable stories. In fact, I find there are always remarkable stories behind family businesses and I frequently encourage families to celebrate these stories, believing that sharing them contributes to the deepening of connections, the transmission of values and the passing on of important knowledge.

How to get started

There are informal and more formal approaches to storytelling; which one you choose depends on what suits your family. For many families I work with, storytelling is already an inbuilt part of their culture, with tales and jokes repeated over dinner and narratives frequently repeated. For others, it could be valuable to deliberately put some time aside whether at a family meeting or in a more casual setting to share family stories to make sure that they are getting the most out of learning from their collective history.

Although storytelling is very powerful on a one-to-one basis, family meetings and gatherings can be a particularly good opportunity to share stories. If you choose the more formal approach, I’ve found that it is very helpful to give family members notice in advance, so that they have time to prepare. It is also useful to give people some specific guidance – make sure you explain why you are holding a storytelling session, and what the focus is - perhaps the rationale is to share with the next generation how challenges in the business’ history were overcome, or perhaps your storytelling is part of a process to define the family’s values.

Putting aside the time for celebrating the founder’s journey, the second generation’s struggles or the third’s triumphs is a critical component for building mutual understanding in any family so whether you are a small nuclear family or a family with 50 + shareholders, getting together to share and talk, laugh and cry together can be very powerful indeed.

Including the next generation

I have seen story telling work especially well when family members are involved at a young age. You can encourage involvement by providing opportunities for them to share their own family stories and experiences, such as an ‘open mic’ setup. Family meetings with a mix of family members - 8 to 80 year-olds - sharing views and perspectives, can be very bonding. If you think the younger generations are not quite ready to contribute, they can listen to their elders tell the stories of their predecessors. It is a particularly positive experience for them to hear senior relatives’ anecdotes about lessons learned and hardship overcome. Families do sometimes make the mistake however of only honouring stories from the founding generation. More recent stories should not be undervalued; an important part of succession can be the creation of new stories that pick up and sustain the family’s common values and legacy.

Conclusions

Telling stories as a business owning family can be very powerful. It can forge closer connections, teach the next generation about the values of the family and can pass on wisdom from one generation to the next. Often however, setting aside time for this sort of pursuit falls off the agenda when there are important commercial decisions or tasks to be completed. Therefore, I would like to encourage you to deliberately put the time aside for story telling – at your next family meeting or annual gathering why not design a session around your family business stories? You might just be surprised by the impact and engagement you create.

 

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Alexandra Sharpe – Deloitte UK

Alex is a partner who leads the Deloitte UK Family Enterprise Consulting team and works with all types of enterprising families: those who own businesses, hold investments, and/or engage in philanthropy together. Working with families across the globe, her main focus is supporting and advising on generational transitions and governance issues. She helps families define their goals and establish the structures, processes and relationships that enable them to achieve success. With a background as a Chartered Accountant and a Masters in Organisational and Social Psychology, Alex seamlessly addresses the multifaceted business and relationship challenges that entrepreneurial families often face.

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