Who Are My Family Members?

One of the questions that comes to mind when setting up family governance structures is whom to include in such a structure. In other words: who are the members to be governed?

Janzen & Co.

Who are my family members?

Interestingly, I have not come accross a lot of writing about this specific question in the field of family governance. The few texts I did come accross tended to keep the matter on quite a generic level. I cannot help but wonder if that is because the topic is so sensitive or because it is merely so difficult to give a clear answer?

How should you approach questions like:

  • Should you keep it to the direct off-springs or should you include cousins?
  • Should you only include members who are actively involved or also members who are more passive or distant?
  • How do you deal with in-laws coming into the family?
  • How do you deal with departures?
  • What actually constitutes a departure if, for example, children are involved?
  • When is an arrival an arrival? Does a couple need to be married?
  • Should new arrivals have to be formally accepted by the family?

In the day and age of blended families and frequent departures and arrivals these questions can become rather tricky to answer.

Maybe it is not even possible to give a specific answer because each family and each family’s culture and situation are unique after all.

However, some guidance might be appreciated and it might be a good starting point to have a set of questions to answer in the process to come to a clearer result.

One of the main questions to answer initially is how to even arrive at a decision. Who is to decide whether to include or exclude any members in setting up a governance structure? Should decisions be made by voting, by consensus or by a selected individual or group of individuals, etc. Without having the one correct answer, the approach that I have seen work best is to establish the governance structure in the smallest sensible circle and then to extend it by way of invitation.

There are arguments to start it in a wider circle but that certainly takes a much more structured and managerial effort which in turn is often the reason that it either never comes off the ground or simply does not work beause it is so difficult to get all parties involved to a consensus.

In my experience it works better to get things started and then to invite more members to participate and develop the structure further.

On a more philosophical level a family needs to decide whether to take a more inclusive or a more exclusive approach. The answer to such a question may well rest in the family’s philosophy and mission.

Apart from the general decision, there probably should be some criteria to define:

  • Who can participate in family meetings (and any other bodies that may have been set up)?
  • Who should have a voting right in these meetings? Should there be advisory voting rights?
  • How and under which circumstances are such voting rights granted or withdrawn?

This article is more of a working list than a piece of advice and I invite you to share your experiences.

Have you had any experience in setting up family governance structures yet? How did you approach the question of whom to include? Please share your experiences and approach with me. What worked for you? What did not work so well?

Sascha Janzen