7 tips for family meetings on the farm

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Holding a family meeting is a good opportunity for each member to share their feelings in a safe and open setting. Carving out time for family meetings gives the whole family an opportunity to address issues that affect the family and farm and, hopefully, resolve a few.

farming 101 meetings

1Schedule a time
In order to get into a routine, carve out a day and time that each member of the family can consistently be present. (This may fluctuate a bit from week to week.) Set a time limit and have a timekeeper to keep everyone on track. At 10 minutes before the meeting is over, the timekeeper should decide if the meeting needs to be extended to resolve a current discussion/problem or if a follow-up meeting needs to be planned.

2Rotate responsibilities
Nobody wants to be the timekeeper every meeting. Rotate who is assigned timekeeper, secretary, leader, etc. The leader should be an adult family member who encourages positive and open communication within the group and can keep the group focused on the topic of discussion. The leader also begins and ends the meeting on time.

A secretary keeps track of important discussions, activities and deadlines scheduled during the family meeting. A recap of minutes can be presented at the beginning of each meeting.

Rotating roles gives each member a chance to have an opportunity at problem solving or help each member discover their role in the family. Rotating roles may not be right for every family and younger members may need assistance with their roles.

3Encourage participation
Family meetings provide a safe environment for each family member to express their feelings without punishment or retaliation. Offer solutions and listen to each other respectfully. If things get too hot to handle, call for a break.

4One problem at time
The meeting may start out with each family member sharing their grievances. The team leader may suggest choosing one issue and working to resolve that issue by meeting close. The team leader may determine more time is needed to resolve the issue or to move on to the next if the issue is resolved.

It is important that the team leader keep the group focused on the issue at hand and keep other family members from getting off track. They can suggest another time to discuss other issues that come up during the discussion.

The group leader should also plan to focus on issues that affect the whole family and not just one or two members. Those issues should be resolved among the members independently with parental or a team leader’s assistance if necessary.

5Come to a consensus
Consensus is defined as communicating, problem-solving and negotiating on major issues until no family member has any major objections to the decision; or when all members can live with it, according to Colorado State University Extension. The final decision needs to be something that all family members can live with emotionally, financially, physically, and mentally. A single person’s decision or majority decisions do not work where family members live, work and play side-by-side. Family members who do not feel heard may lash out and sabotage decisions.

When the team leader feels there is a consensus among the group, he or she should call for any final objections before resolving the issues. “What I’m hearing us say we can all agree to do is …. Does anyone have any major objections?”

6Farm and family balance
Allow a portion of family meetings to reflect on non-farm production related issues. According to an article by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, “When the business is the farm and you also live on the farm, it can often feel as if you’re working every minute.” Give family members time to share their personal feelings about their role on the family farm or how it’s affecting them in other areas of their life. It can also give family members an opportunity to share their own personal visions for the family farm.

7Evaluate and adjust
As family members grow and change, so will with the rules for family meetings. One way to evaluate if meetings are beneficial for your family, is to look for areas of progress. Are children taking on new responsibilities and tasks they are asked to do? Are family members’ attitudes toward one another becoming more positive and are they working together better? Are there more or less conflicts arising at family meetings and are they being resolved or do they continue to fester?

If your family can’t seem to find a time to get everyone together, parents may consider one-on-one time with each child to make sure their needs are being addressed. You may find the best time to address a particular issue or conflict is right as it is happening. The key is to be flexible and find what works for your family.

Source: Colorado State University Extension, 10 Tips for Successful Family Meetings; and University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Running Successful Farm-Family Meetings.

(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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