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How families can work together for farm success

2 min read

Working with family in the farm business is not the same as working with employees you don’t share a blood bond with. Experts agree a strong family foundation and clear vision are critical to making it work.

Gordon Colledge, a farm advisor in Alberta, and Jim Soldan, a family business trainer in British Columbia, offer the following tips for a successful business working relationship:

Clear expectations

Colledge says it’s important to be clear about expectations.

“Unmet expectation leads to frustration and frustration is one of the characteristics of anger,” Colledge explains. “Anger can run really high when expectations aren’t met.”

Developing a good policy handbook that clearly states duties, responsibilities, expectations and limitations can help.

“Sometimes we, in the family, must have the big handbook; we must have rules to abide by,” Colledge says. He adds policies will likely need changes over time, noting the family should decide together when to make the change and what it should be.

With policy handbook in hand, families should hold regular policy review meetings where efficiencies with main areas of the farm are openly discussed.

“With that involvement, it starts to take on energy of its own,” Colledge says.

Soldan suggests a 50-50 rule where family members spend 30 minutes discussing how they are as a family and 30 minutes talking about the business.

“Allow people to speak without fear, and maintain a dialogue process that’s regular and consistent,” Soldan says. 

Define success

Soldan also believes the family should work together to develop a solid definition of success.

Family farm business success is a product of several factors, with some families adding more to make it more personal.

“Family farm business success is a product of several factors, with some families adding more to make it more personal,” Solan says. “It’s a mathematical equation; if a zero is anywhere in the equation, the end effect is zero.”

He gives the example of profit, times harmony, times fun, times being of value, times trust, equals real success. If someone isn’t feeling valued or trust doesn’t exist, there will be no real success.

And, he recommends, families spend time together recreationally.

“Families that recreate together, stay together,” Soldan says. “It’s about life and if anything comes at them, they will have a foundation to stand on.”

Bottom line

A strong family foundation and clear vision are critical to farm success when family members work together in the farm business, experts say. Developing a good policy handbook, holding regular meetings to review policy and check in as a family and spending time together recreationally can help families do that.

Article by: Trudy Kelly Forsythe

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