6 tips for decision making on a family farm

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In order for a multigenerational family farm to be successful, it is important for all adult family members to be involved in the decision-making process. If not, members may work toward their own goals that may conflict with the family goals. Here are six ways to help family farm teams make effective decisions that will benefit the long-term goals of the farm.

Here are six ways to help family farm teams make effective decisions that will benefit the long-term goals of the farm.

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1Hold regular meetings
To work as a family team, hold regular family/business meetings. These meetings should be held in a business-like setting to keep everyone focused and on task.

Plan to hold regularly scheduled meetings, whether it’s every couple of weeks or once a month. Holding meetings on an “as needed” basis are usually put off until there is an emergency.

Prepare an agenda and any other important materials before the meeting. This will ensure that all parties stay on task and items get accomplished.

2Autocratic decisions
In an autocratic decision-making scenario, one person, such as the head of the family operation, makes the decision. This is usually the fastest and easiest way to resolve a situation where other individual parties don’t feel the need to contribute or the time for making the decision is very short.

However, some individuals may not feel they have a voice in the decision and, as a result, feel little ownership in the decision itself.

3Democratic decisions
Taking a vote from the group is the most democratic approach, and allows the whole family to participate. This is good for large groups, however, other processes should be considered for smaller groups.

Putting it to a vote could divide the family and the minority may not support or even sabotage the final decision. The minority may also criticize the decision if it does not go well. However, if other methods of decision making cannot produce a decision, voting may be the only viable alternative.

4Consensus decisions
Consensus relies on the belief that opponents will gravitate toward your solution when they are provided with the right information. It involves educating the opposing party using facts to outline the pros and cons of the decision. However, many decisions are not based on facts, but on attitudes, perceptions and emotions.

5Collaborative decisions
In a collaborative decision-making scenario, all parties join to constructively explore their differences in search of solutions. By debating different perspectives, the problem is recognized by all parties and new alternatives are discussed that can benefit involved.

Although collaborative decision making can be the most time-consuming, it is often the preferred method for major decisions that require the support of the whole farm team.

6Emotional bank account
A basic element of strong family relationships is trust, which can be built upon by making deposits into an emotional bank account. Deposits can be courtesy, kindness, honesty, and the habit of keeping commitments. Accounts high in trust make communications easy and effective.

Withdrawals from the account can include discourteousness, disrespect, overreaction, betrayal, and threats. Overdrawn accounts of distrust can lead team members to draw away from each other, pursuing their own independent goals that may not be good for the family farm in the long run.

Sources: Making Family Business Decisions, Iowa State University Extension.

(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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