4 tips for communicating on the family farm

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Family members can be some of the toughest co-workers to have. Whether it’s being afraid to let a family employee know what he or she is doing wrong, not being afraid to criticize because they are family, or not saying anything at all, communication is key, but often difficult, for a farm business. Here are some tips from the University of Minnesota Extension to help open the lines of communication.

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1Understand the business structure
Take the time to map out the farm business structure. Does your farm have a pyramid structure with employees at the bottom, managers in the middle and owners at top? This kind of structure makes it easy for employees and managers to know who to communicate with up and down the pyramid.

A smaller farm may have a more linear structure, with all business partners shown side-by-side, each with their own set of tasks on the farm.

Try to redefine the line between work and family. The family farm is a business and most decisions should be based on facts rather than emotions.

2Identify strengths and farm roles
Each family member has his or her own strengths related to the farm business. Identifying those strengths and giving each farm team member a role geared toward those strengths will help improve the function of the farm business.

Examples of roles can be baby animal care, feed and nutrition management, genetics and breeding, health care, farm mechanic, etc.

Sometimes farm duties may require more than one team member to get the job done. Communication is key in making sure all duties on the family farm are being carried out.

3Team meetings
Team meetings keep everyone on the same page and make sure the farm is meeting its goals. Farm managers and owners wave off weekly meetings because they think they don’t have time. But team meetings can help save time if used properly.

Team meetings allow all family (and team) members to sit down and share thoughts and concerns and identify areas of improvement. This can be a place to sort out new job roles and identify different strengths and weakness within the group. Team meetings should open the lines of communication between family members.

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Show appreciation
Getting caught up in the workload and busy schedules often makes it hard for farm families to express their gratitude for one another. It can be easier to criticize when something goes wrong and slows the business down, rather than to show appreciation when the farm continues to run smoothly.

Family members (and other employees) want to know that they are appreciated for the work they put into the family farm. Meetings can be a good place to acknowledge a family member for their hard work, but also letting them know while they are working that you appreciate what they are doing for the farm can make them want to continue to work hard.

Source: University of Minnesota Extension: For the family farm, communication is key

(Farm and Dairy is featuring a series of “101” columns throughout the year to help young and beginning farmers master farm living. From finances to management to machinery repair and animal care, farmers do it all.)

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