This week’s “Farm and Ranch Life” message is a follow-up on last week’s edition about managing conflict among farm family members. Both columns stem from the considerable interest readers expressed about September and November 2012 columns concerning farm family estates and jealousy that hurts farm families.
Several Swedish and American studies indicate properly conducted farm business meetings enhance employee morale and contribute to reductions in worker physical and behavioral health issues, and increased productivity of the agricultural operation. Effective business meetings are especially important for family farm operations in which the children and parents work together.
Often the farm family members are enmeshed in each other’s activities and bring unresolved relationship problems into their work situation. Their competitive nature worsens tension and detracts from making the most beneficial decisions for the overall enterprise.
Gregorio Billikopf of the University of California at http://nature.berkeley.edu/ ucce50/ag-labor/7labor/11.htm and Colorado State University extension staff Dr. Bob Fetsch and Beryl Jacobson at www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/ 10249.html offer tips on conducting effective business meetings.
I also drew on my experience teaching farm families how to conduct farm business meetings, and my own experience meeting with employees on the farm and in behavioral health settings. Here are the suggestions:
•Start the meeting on time and finish at a set time.
•Usually the head of the operation runs the meetings, but others can be designated.
•All employees, family members involved in the farm operation, and sometimes both, should attend, depending on what is being discussed.
•Appoint a capable person, such as an objective family member, to record the minutes and send them to all the participants prior to the next meeting.
•One person may speak at a time and without interruption; if the meeting gets out of order, the speaker must be acknowledged before speaking, or asked to leave.
•No profanity, name-calling or slurs should be allowed and, if continued, the speaker should be asked to leave until the person regains control over these behaviors.
•Discuss and resolve one item at a time, or table an unresolved matter and set a date for resumption of its discussion, then move to another issue.
•When together with distrusted family members, take a one-down position that allows others to say their piece and do not react while they are speaking.
•Ask for a time to indicate your position on an issue and state your position as objectively as possible, pointing out its advantages and shortcomings.
•Provide options for reaching the desired outcome.
•If someone displays a lot of emotion while speaking, usually that means the subject has importance or fear attached to the issue and the person needs encouragement to verbalize his or her concerns.
•Private conversations and phone calls are not allowed; if phone calls occur, the answerer should step out of the meeting.
•Take scheduled breaks for refreshments, use of the bathroom and phone calls.
•The meeting leader should ask for an analysis of a problem or concern, seeking a full hearing of all aspects of the matter without taking a side; solutions should be deferred for the time being.
•When the problem is fully understood, then the meeting leader may ask the participants to brainstorm about solutions.
•Ask for further study when issues are not resolvable and put them on the agenda for future meetings.
•Often, important matters cannot be resolved during a single meeting or even during several meetings; this means the issue should be visited as many times as necessary until everyone is as comfortable as possible with the proposed solution. (I have seen family estate plans take several years to resolve.)
•Keep in mind the principle that the more proposed solutions there are and the more diverse they are, the more likely the best solution will emerge.
•Seek a democratic consensus decision about which solution is best; declarations of a resolution by the leader or autocratic decisions by the person with the most power usually are met with skepticism or outright resistance.
•Bring in an outside mediator or consultant to help run the meetings and to generate solutions if necessary.
Every farm family is different. Some families can discuss sensitive issues without rancor. I usually have to recommend using the farm business meeting approach to deal with personal issues, such as anger toward siblings. This makes the resolution process more objective and fairer.
Applying a consensus decision-making process in farm family business meetings usually requires the best in us and makes us better people; the process can be learned. Successful outcomes enable us to develop confidence and to achieve respect from competitive family members.
Thanks to everyone who wrote me. Feel free to share your further thoughts, recommendations and questions with me. My contact information is below.
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D. serves on the adjunct faculty of the University of Iowa and owns a row crop farm in Harlan, Iowa. He is also a founding partner of the nonprofit network AgriWellness, Inc.
Send your thoughts and questions to him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org