Managing Farm Family
OSU NW Area Agricultural Economist
Within Family System
Farm Return on Investment,
Businesses Mission & Direction,
Support of Family
Family Business Communication
• Family System • Mgmnt – Ownership
– Emotion Systems
– Inward orientation – Outward orientation
– Slow change – Rapid change
– Goal is to maintain – Merit based
harmony, nurture, – Goal is to generate
develop good adult profit, develop skills,
citizens (transfer pass on the business,
“The two traits most
commonly found among
healthy families are shared
Family meetings help to do
- Craig Aronoff & John Ward
Family Business Communication
• Why don‟t we do it well
– We don‟t understand different perspectives
– Past experiences with trying to talk about
– Threat of “loss of control”
– Reluctance to change
Family Business Communication
• How can we improve
– Gain an understanding of the different personality
traits, and different perspectives in your
– Understand a “little bit” of communication theory
• How it is communicated is more important than what is
• Non-verbal is important
• Develop listening skills
• Recognize bids for communication
• Remove roadblocks to communication
“To have great interpersonal
must be great listeners
as well as great talkers.”
-Joseph A. DeVito
How to become a more effective
• Always show respect for the speaker.
• Know when to be a passive listener.
• Know when to be an active listener.
– Paraphrase the speaker‟s meaning.
– Express understanding of speaker‟s feelings.
– Ask questions.
Check out your assumptions because they
• Partially right
• Partially wrong
Communication Skills Summary
• Focus on the positive.
• Focus on what’s best.
• Use good listening.
• Use “I” or “We” statements.
• Avoid roadblocks.
• Work at communication everyday!
What is a “Family Business
• Opportunity to discuss important issues
– Not talking about tactical meetings (who will do
what task today) (though those types of meetings
may be needed)
– Not talking about emergency meeting when
something “bad” happens that needs a response
(though those meeting may be needed)
• Important, Long Term, Strategic Issue
Most Families Underestimate The Importance of This
Type of Communication!!!!
Getting Ready for a
Prior to beginning, work with all of the
stakeholders to establish a mutually acceptable
framework. It is helpful to record these
policies in written form for reference.
• Schedule regularly (so it becomes routine)
– Few times a year
– Monthly during “off” season
– Weekly during “off” season
• Resist the temptation to “postpone” scheduled
meetings (they may never happen)
• Should become a habit
What meeting schedule
will we use?
• Determine how often to meet. Will this
change depending on time of year?
• Plan for “emergency” meetings?
• Agree on day of the week and a time of
• What about when somebody cannot be at
• Choose a facilitator
– Start with someone everyone trusts, perhaps later rotate
• Set an agenda
– Early meetings could focus on visioning
• Invite the right people
– Non-farm family members, outside advisors, lenders
• Set ground rules
– Support majority decisions, keep disagreements within the
• Keep a record
– File with other important business information
• Organize the next meeting
– Date, time, general agenda, who is invited, etc.
Who will facilitate the
• Stakeholders take turns
• One stakeholder agrees to facilitate all
• Outside neutral party
• Make sure the discussion stays on topic
• Constructively resolve conflicts
• Remind the group of effective
• Call breaks when needed
• Help focus on problems rather than
The Role of the
Opening the Meeting
• Define the ground rules and the structure
of the meeting
• Review the agenda that was established
prior to the meeting
Managing the Process
• The facilitator is in charge of the process
• Keep track of major points on chalk
board, flip chart, etc.
• Make sure someone is in charge of record
• Provide information continuity for
Set the “tone” of the
• Remind of importance
• Maintain appropriate “pace” – do not
rush but keep people on task
• Create a safe environment for people
• Keep anyone from “losing face”
• Model active listening – check in with
all parties (verbally and/or with eye
• Identify who is talking to whom
(encourage silent people to speak)
• Shift the communication if
• “Listen” for what is not being said or
is being avoided
Deal with Emotions
• Reframe to move intensity up or down
• Link emotions to behaviors
• Help parties express their ideas
• Promote an understanding of each
person’s situation, feelings, and
• Reality-test proposed solutions (play it
out to the logical or illogical end)
Assist in Problem-Solving
• Ask what it would take for people to be
• Review positive and negative consequences
of solution (benefits/risks)
• Include facts and feelings – encourage
creativity and flexibility
• Look at short term and long term effect
• Think about all areas – financial, legal,
• Implement criteria for decision-making
• What is the meeting about
– Purpose, values, history Circulate a draft
– Family conflict agenda ahead of
– Business participation time. Garner input
– Compensation, ownership prior to the meeting.
– Succession Stick to the agenda.
– Responsibility Schedule time to list
– Strategy potential agenda items
• Allotted time for next meeting
– 1 to 1.5 hours is enough, schedule more frequent
meetings if needed
Developing the Agenda
• Review of written record from last meeting
• Establish a time schedule for current meeting
• Identification of issues – circulate issues from
each aspect among stakeholders
– Personal, emotional, family
– Conflict situations which have occurred since the
– Immediate business issues – Long-term planning
– Family/business values review
Invite the Right People
• Stakeholders (anyone with an ownership,
operational, or emotional stake in the decisions
to be made at the meeting)
• Will depend on the agenda
• May need to invite advisors from outside the
family (crop consultant, attorney, accountant,
• Don‟t forget employees who may have an
operational stake in the decisions
Set Ground Rules
• Promptness, preparedness
• Open, honest, and courteous communication
• Who will information be shared with
• How will decisions be made
– Autocratic (one person)
– Democratic (vote)
– Consensus (pros and cons)
– Collaborative (look for new solutions)
What meeting ground rules
can we agree to follow?
• Role of the facilitator
• Talk one at a time
• Honest conversation
• Respect each other
What criteria should we
use for decision-making –
what is most important to
• Financial impact
• Family values
• Short-term or long-term impact
Keep a Record
• Someone is responsible for keeping
minutes, documenting decisions
• File so that everyone remembers what
was decided and why
• Minimizes “selective recall”
• Can be a motivator in that it documents
that decisions are being made and the
business is moving forward
Organize the Next Meeting
• Set the date, time, and place for the next
• Decide who will facilitate
• Briefly summarize already proposed
• Decide how the draft agenda will be
formulated and circulated
• Thank people for their work
• Summarize major points identified
• Where do we go from here? Who will
• Follow-up with a written summary of
Getting People to the
• Make sure everyone is invited – don’t assume
• How often will the group meet
• Will we meet more often or less often during
specific times of the year?
• What day(s) of the week? What time of the day
works best? Allow enough time.
• The meeting site is important. What location
will minimize or eliminate interruptions?
• Shall we rotate of meet in the same place each
Family Retreats – A Special Kind
Of Family Business Meeting
• Extended weekends away from the business
(hotel, park lodge, etc.)
• Less frequent than regular family business
• Focus on really big picture stuff that involves a
lot of stakeholders, and tough decisions
• May ask an advisor to serve as facilitator
• Incorporate family fun time
Serious Disagreement (Conflict)
• Family business conflict is inevitable
– It can be a positive thing
– It is a matter of how the stakeholders deal with it
• Understand “change theory”
• Understand generational differences
• Employ time tested conflict resolution
• Recognize the need for outside facilitation or
Conflict Resolution Guidelines
• Bring up tough issues softly.
• Avoid using the word “you” to blame.
• Use “I” statements to talk about problems.
• Make messages short during disagreements.
• Be respectful even during conflict.
• Suggest a „time out‟ to cool down. Be positive.
• Agree on rules for difficult discussions.
• Calm your body.
• Be willing to compromise.
• Honor each other‟s hopes and dreams.
Family businesses need a “Conflict Resolution” plan!
What Regularly Scheduled Family
Meetings Will Do For Your
• Build leadership skills
• Build a stronger farm business
• Plan for future ownership and management
• Increase participation
• Preserve values, traditions, history
• Recognize and resolve conflict
• Enhance business success
Family businesses need a “Family Communication” plan!