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0907 PD: Transitioning to team management

Gregg Hadley Published on 31 August 2007

Farming is often characterized as a career for rugged individualists. Nevertheless, more and more farms are run by multiple decision makers.

Having multiple decision makers – such as family, friends, neighbors or strictly business partners – manage a farm requires an understanding of how to operate as a team.

Few have this understanding, which can lead to miscommunication, anxiety, animosity and, in extreme cases, even business and relationship failure.

Even family-managed farms have team problems. Many family-managed farms believe the family bond is all they need to keep the business and family running well. Some are sadly mistaken.

Prior to transitioning to team management, or while transitioning, it is important to review the characteristics of a good team and make suggestions to help your farm’s management team run efficiently. According to Jon Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith in The Wisdom of Teams, effective teams have six basic characteristics. The team members:

1. are sufficiently small in number (usually less than 12 members)

2. have complementary skills

3. share a unifying purpose

4. have a common set of performance goals

5. follow an agreed-upon working approach

6. have mutual accountability

Most farm management teams are already small in number, so developing the remaining five characteristics are the most vital steps. Team members need to determine the types of skills (crop, livestock, human resource, financial management skills, etc.) the farm needs to run effectively.

Next, the team needs to inventory their combined set of skills. If the team is deficient in any skill area, the team can elect to have a member go acquire that skill, bring another person possessing that skill into the partnership or invite an off-farm person with that skill to be a team member.

The team members need to develop, agree upon, write down and memorize a unifying purpose. The unifying purpose describes what the team ultimately wants the farm to accomplish. It should be short, easily understood and meaningful to the members.

An example of a unifying purpose may be: “To produce safe, high-quality food in a profitable and environmentally sound manner.”

Next, the team should develop a set of performance goals that will help them achieve their purpose. These goals should be realistic and actionable. An example of a performance goal may be: “To achieve an 8 percent rate of return on assets over the next five years.”

People often have different ways of communicating to and working with other people. This can lead to miscommunication, inefficiency and relationship problems. To minimize this threat, the team should decide upon and write down a common working approach. In other words, the team must develop the protocols members will follow when they work together as a team. An example of a working approach protocol may be: “We will respect the right of every member to express his or her opinion.”

Finally, the members must be willing to be held accountable and willing to hold the other members accountable for team performance. The team should discuss in advance what should occur if the team is performing unsatisfactorily.

Being a member of an effective team can be a rewarding experience. Few individual managers can meet the performance results of a dedicated team of managers. However, being a member of an ineffective team can be a horrible experience. By following the previous suggestions, your team will have a better chance of becoming a highly effective management team.  PD

—From Horizons, February 2007

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