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Consider family dynamics in farm management plans

2 min read

Family farm. The name says it all. Some, if not all, workers involved in farms across the country are members of the same family. Not only do they have long and sometimes complex histories together, but they are also in business together. That combination, experts say, can add complications to managing the operation.

“The term, family dynamics, refers to the patterns of relating to, or interactions between, family members and the resulting picture of the family and family farm business,” says Jim Soldan, a family business trainer in British Columbia. “Each family system, and its dynamics, is unique.”

Relationships may include employer, employee, shareholder, in–law, off-site family member or family members who may live in the same yard or even in the same house. Then there are the roles that impact family dynamics, such as parents also being supervisors, and when and where one role ends and the other begins.

The owner’s role

Farm owners can wade into family dynamics by providing leadership, says Gordon Colledge, a farm advisor in Alberta.

This begins with knowing who, and how many, are owners – and leaders.

“If it’s one owner, one title, and it’s a family, they need to determine who really is behind the decision making and who actually carries out the role of leadership,” Soldan says, pointing out who appears to be a leader because of ownership may not be the leader. “Within a family farm business, the members need to direct leadership into the hands that are most capable for a particular area.”

For family specifically, Soldan says, the owner’s role must be to maintain a healthy dance around basic human values, such as honesty, respect for others, fairness, self-respect and openness.

“This must be seen and carried out as a shared role with all family members, with contributions from everyone in the family and a family approach to ensuring that there is an accountability-and-consequence procedure in place,” Soldan says. “This ensures that lip service by anyone does not flaw this procedure and approach.”

Taking the lead

Leaders need to know their limitations by allowing themselves to be held accountable and by honing their conflict resolution skills.

Colledge says owner-managers should also be encouraged to involve more of the family, working towards their strengths and to recognize everyone's contributions.

“All of us want to be recognized for what we contribute, but sometimes families don’t pay attention and they don’t compliment one another,” Colledge says.

Bottom line

Recognize family dynamics play a huge role in what occurs in the family farm business. Experts say farm owner-managers should be leaders and recognize the strengths and contributions of their family members/co-workers to avoid complications in management of the operations.

Article by: Trudy Kelly Forsythe

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