As dads we can sometimes forget to employ the skills that we are blessed with. We are good planners; we can see the big picture and keep the ship sailing in the right direction. We do this at work all the time. But for some reason we have abrogated this responsibly in the home. At home we are often passive observers going with the flow, sometimes getting involved, but usually getting angry and losing our cool.
The Family Meeting is a way to introduce some of our natural skills into the family dynamic.
Seriously, think about the last time you sat down with or without your spouse and considered what your family is working towards. Planning is essential, basically there are three levels of planning: short-term, medium-term and long-term. These planning levels should be applied at work and at home. Here is an example that puts planning into context, ask yourself where you are focusing your activities in your home. I call it the "Altitude Metaphor."
The Altitude Metaphor:
- View on the Ground – the view of the grunt on the ground, the daily activities required to get the immediate job done, the view right in front of your face. Often called the tactical level. There is very little planning that takes place at this level, it is mostly reactive. Consider what this is in the chaotic day of a family, the morning rush to get everyone out the door to work and schools, properly dressed, with lunches, homework complete, house clean. It is the grunt work. In most families this is the constant state of mind, reacting and fixing.
- View from 1, 000 Feet – the Operational view, you can survey the immediate surroundings and see what is going on. This is not the view of the ground but a survey of what is going on in relation to other factors. There is a good amount of planning and proactive activity that can go on from this vantage that will help the activities on the ground. From a family perspective this would relate to planning the next day's activities, arranging who will be driving where, what groceries do we need. Charting activities on the calendar, booking vacations. Anything planned within the given year happens here.
- View from 30, 000 Feet – The Strategic View, the most important view as a leader. From this vantage point you are able to see the big picture. Not just your family, but where your family fits into the world. It is from this vantage point that long range planning and goal setting takes place. The view is fundamental to long-term success of any organization. When you plan at this level you are looking at the two to five years out.
The beauty of a well-implemented Family Meeting is that it addresses issues from each vantage point and gives you as a parent and father an ability to captain the ship. Without planning at all levels you are constantly reacting. You will find that the Family Meeting will give everyone in your family the gift of time and the gift of routine.
If you think about how most people parent you realize that there is very little planning in an effective sense. It is mostly a reactive process. Think about the house routine. Most parents just give direction to their kids. There is no long-range plan, no establishment of goals, no formal review of performance. Just an endless barrage of instructions to the kids, they hear them, or they ignore them. One can not manage the household because there is too much to do, too much information and little accountability.
Once your children know that you can not possibility remember or enforce all of the direction you have given them, they come to know that they can wait you out. You will forget what you have told them, or you will be too busy to ensure compliance.
Many, if not most people, allocate no time trying to figure out what the family as a unit is working towards. We have said it before and we will say it again; there is one factor that makes the most difference in happy, well-run families: ROUTINE.
So the first thing to do is to make a commitment to get together every Sunday after dinner to discuss the family's activities and progress. If you do this you create a family routine.
In this lesson you will learn some very crucial and basic facts about performance. First of all, consistency is the number one factor that promotes positive responses from your children. In order to achieve consistency you need follow up. Here is a super quote that I learned as a young officer in the Infantry and I never forgot it.
"Expect only what you Inspect."
Go ahead and chew on that quote for a few seconds, apply it to work and to home. Most people give directions to employees or kids and then never follow up to see if it is performed correctly. Then they get upset, annoyed or frustrated when things are not done the way they want them to be.
As a leader, your followers will expect and demand you work to earn their respect. It takes little or no effort to 'tell' someone to do something. In fact some people can, and do just tell people what to do all day. It is ineffective. The absence of follow up is fatal to performance. A Family Meeting institutionalizes follow up.
We are not talking about creating unnecessary meetings, we all suffer from people wasting our time at work, but there is no argument that there is a fundamental need for all organizations to plan. For today's lesson we will focus on the home, and if you are interested in the business aspects of leadership email us and we can set you up with the best leadership products on the market.
Your Family Meeting will be the engine that drives your family. It is the vital planning process, the review process and the arena where you will strengthen bonds, give legitimacy and demonstrate character. The following is a brief outline of what is required to run outstanding Family Meetings:
Pick a time that allows your family to meet regularly. We usually recommend Sunday after dinner. Your kids will come to expect the family meeting as part of the routine. We hope we do not have to go over the importance of having at an absolute bare minimum, one family dinner a week where everyone sits down to a proper meal. If this is not happening in your household you have an emergency on your hands and you need to sign up for the personal coaching program immediately.
Find a quiet place in your house, preferably a table where everyone can pay attention, avoid locations where your kids can lounge and lose concentration
- The Candle. At our house we always light a candle to signify that the meeting has started, the kids like to light it (yes I let my kids play with fire) and they like to blow it out. They know that after the candle is blown out that we always have a family hug.
- The Conch. For those of you who read the Lord of Flies when you were kids, you will remember that the lost boys had a shell that they used at meetings, whoever held the shell was the speaker. We advocate a similar artifact in your family meeting. We call ours, 'the rock to talk.' We found a heart shaped rock on a beach on a family vacation and use it as the talisman that gives any family member "the floor."
- The Minute Book. It is important that you keep a record of the meetings. You can pick the book with your kids. You will see why it is important to keep a record later. Use the same pen every time if you can, routines work with kids. If your kids are a bit older they can take turns taking notes after you have shown them how.
- Some Poster Board. This is where you will post your individual and family goals, accepted routines, the Family Golden Rule. This will be placed somewhere visible where it can be seen regularly. We suggest somewhere in your kitchen.
You must plan for your meeting and you can employ many of the skills we have learned so far to do so. Think about when, where and how you will do it. Think about who will be the biggest opponent in the household, then think about how to deal with that. Review the lesson on love languages (Lesson 3) and devise a plan to influence your family members when they become disruptive. Think about what matters to each of them and try to find a way to make them feel valuable and included in the process. Think about who you can give little jobs to during the meeting. For example, your chattiest kids can be assigned to monitor the meeting protocol about speaking in turns.
This is just a sample way of doing things based on one family dynamic, we assume because you had the smarts to sign up for this program that you will build your own stylized meeting. We submit this example as a starting point for how to get a Family Meeting going.
- Make an Announcement. Announce the family meeting, be prepared for groans if your kids are older, but ignore them and explain what is happening and why, for example:
"We are going to start a new tradition in the family; it is called the Family Meeting. This is a chance for everyone in the family to share their ideas, thoughts and complaints. At our first meeting I will ask everyone what their goals are for the next year, what would they like to do more of, then I will ask them what their favorite thing about the family is and what their least favorite thing is. We will take notes about what we say in the meeting so that we do not forget things. I hope you guys can think about what you might say at our meeting on …. Write down your concerns if you want. I will also make a special announcement at that meeting and some of you will get special jobs. "
Clearly you can change this for the age / maturity level of your kids.
Prepare Yourself. Gather your props and tools, and write out a plan before you start the meeting. If you have a spouse, sit down and discuss the meeting with her, get her onside and ask for her support in the process. Your first meeting should be short and sharp so that it leaves a great first impression. Create an outline of what you want to achieve, for example:
- Intro of the Rules
- Aim of the Meeting
- Discussion of Everyone's Goals
- Discussion of What is Working and What is not Working
- Establishment of Morning Routine
- Final Thoughts
- Family Hug
- Start the Meeting. Light the ceremonial candle, and cover the basic rules, bring out the 'rock to talk' and let everyone know that the person who holds the rock is entitled to speak interruption-free about whatever they think is important, get everyone to agree and ask one of the family members to monitor the rule and pass the rock. Ask who would like to go first and see what happens. If no one volunteers … it is time for dad to step up to the plate and tell his family what his goals are, what he likes, what he wants improved, how he can improve, how he wants to be a great dad. By showing some vulnerability you show strength, your family will now be motivated to follow suit. Write down your goals on the poster board (often I focus on a vacation I would like most, everyone has an opinion on that).
- Go With the Flow. You can not force this, you have to read the meeting, keep your cool, be patient and allow the personalities of your family to surface. Remember they are not used to being asked to contribute, they may be distrustful or shy, coax them into a place where they feel comfortable sharing their concerns with their parents. Let them know that their inputs will be put into a family plan. It will not be perfect, but you are only looking for participation at the beginning.
- Create Family Policies. One of the overall goals is to create family routines and policies together. So for example you can introduce the topic by saying something like this:
- "Look kids, the mornings are very busy for mom and dad. Can you think of some of the things that have to get done before we leave for school?" Get the kids to list all the activities that go on in the morning and get them to agree that it is a lot for mom and dad to monitor. Then get them to agree that everyone has to do some jobs to get out the door. What is the first thing …? Wake up and make your bed, then have breakfast – clean up your dishes, then brush teeth … I hope you are getting the picture, get the kids to acknowledge and talk about the situation and then ask them for solutions. In the end, you should have an agreed upon plan. In our family, we agreed to and apply this morning routine with great results (believe me it took some work to get it going smoothly, but now that it is consistent it saves my wife and I tones of time):
1. 6:15, Wake up and Make Bed
2. Have breakfast, put dishes away, extra points for no arguing
3. Wash face and hands, brush teeth
4. Get dressed, tidy up room
5. Practice music lessons
6. Prepare Schoolbag, make sure have homework, everything signed and lunches packed
7. Free-time to read or play. Note: If you are letting your child watch TV in the morning before their chores are complete, you need the EliteDad Inner Circle one-on-one coaching program, seriously.
Our kids have this routine memorized, if there is a problem we simply say, "Remember the routine", they know it and we do not have to badger them. If they fall off the wagon one week, it is discussed at the next family meeting and we agree upon meaningful consequences. Try it out and let us know how it works.
- Establish Consequences. After setting up rules, it is important to discuss what fair consequences are for not following family rules. Make sure the kids are involved and agree to them. This way every week when you cover how well everyone followed the policies you can discuss the consequences, the kids soon learn that there will be follow up and they will learn that they can not hide from their responsibilities.
- Sum Up. Do not dominate the meeting; it is the surest way to kill it. Let your family express themselves, give them some rope to feel the process out, do not take over at the slightest hiccup. See yourself as a calm overseer gently steering the ship towards a rewarding destination. End the meeting with a reinforcement of what actions we will take over the next week. Make sure you keep a record.
- End on A High Note. Congratulate everyone, you are in the elite group of families who treat each other well, who are becoming functional and thank everyone for following the rules and being polite. We always end with a family hug, it may seem cheesy, but it becomes meaningful. Try not to judge things of importance by your family's first reactions. Quality is the product of consistency. After you have established the practice of a family hug for example, the kids actually come to expect it, and although they will never admit to you that it is cool if they are in their teens, you can be sure that they will remember it when they are older.
- Review. At the start of the next meeting always review the decisions of the last meeting. Invite comments on the progress so far, what is working and what is not. I was surprised at how much the kids like that there is a record. In many kids minds the world is transient, and adults are not held accountable. To your children, it is magical that there is a record kept of their decisions, for some reason it makes them take things more seriously.
We have so many great stories to share about family meetings. I hold my kids accountable and they hold me accountable. For example, the establishment of a family routine imposed some rigorous standards on the kids, but they agreed to them and when they were not following them all my wife and I had to do was remind them to follow the routine, not give them 5 or 6 different sets of instructions.
But my kids held me accountable as well. They told me I swear too much (Army time, what can I say?). They said it is not good and they think I should stop … well, they were right and I acknowledged that. This sends them the signal that there is fairness in the family; that we are all accountable to them as they are to us.
I asked them to help me out by monitoring my behavior and counting the times I swore for the following week, I would put one dollar in the vacation jar for every time they caught me swearing. They loved the idea and monitored my behavior, but the other upside is that they could not help getting into the program this way, they were "swearing inspectors", and they collected at the next meeting. They asked me all week when we could start the next meeting. Do you see the brilliance in it? They are engaged, they feel valued and you have buy-in to get them onside with family routines.
Here is why a Family Meeting works:
- As we have said before, routines work
- There is a formal written record of what happens at the meeting, accountability is introduced to family members (parents included)
- It builds consensus and group cohesion. You gather as a team and discuss issues, it is quite startling actually that very very few families ever do this.
- It builds a sense of ownership, all members of the family are included in family planning, are encouraged to share their opinions and are asked to agree to decisions
- There is follow-up, points discussed at the last Family Meeting are reviewed. The children can be reminded that they agreed to the plan, and that they agreed to the consequences of not following it. It gives the kids stability to know they will be held accountable.
Hold the meeting and see what you learn about you and your family. To be honest, I was a bit gun-shy about holding my first meeting, my wife was skeptical, I was sensitive to looking like a fool, but I persevered and now am very grateful. My wife openly admits to her friends that it is a compete success. My kids look forward to it.
After the first Family Meeting I was a bit unsure about how it went. When I was putting the kids to bed my middle daughter, she was 9 at the time said, "You know daddy, this Family Meeting is quite special, I think you should come to everyone because they make me feel like the family is working. " It was priceless.