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Three steps to overcome family dysfunction

Rena Striegel for Progressive Forage Published on 28 September 2021

Succession planning is often delayed or derailed due to dysfunction or disharmony in the family. When a group struggles to work effectively together, there are three options:

1. Figure out how to work through it.

2. Ignore it.

3. Decide you will not continue to work together.

Option 3 may mean separating assets so family members can continue to farm – just not together.

If No. 1 is your choice, here is a simple three-step formula to get the group on the same page, develop a plan of action and hold each team member accountable for the outcome.

Step 1: Consensus

In Step 1, it is important that the group determines what outcome is desired. We have found when there is dysfunction in a leadership team, it is often due to lack of common vision, clarity of roles or accountability for outcomes. Once the group can come to consensus about what needs to be improved, the tools or steps to take can be identified.

To gain consensus, it is important to avoid making the discussion about a person. When dysfunction is present, it is rarely due to one person. It has been developed over time, and everyone on the team is participating in it in some way.

Step 2: Commitment

Once you have identified why the dysfunction is occurring, you must get a commitment from every member of the group that they are going to participate in the solution. Consider creating a commitment contract. This is a document which lists in detail what the group commits to do to eliminate the dysfunction and begin to put healthier behaviors in its place. Some examples of what may need to be in your commitment contract are:

  • Work with my team to build trust among us.

  • Attend meetings as needed and to complete any assignments on time which will help my team reach our goals.

  • Maintaining a positive attitude – even when the work related to this process is stressful or when I must compromise for the good of the team.

  • Avoid triangulation and to discontinue speaking behind other team members’ backs. I agree to participate in open, honest communication that is solutions-focused.

  • Allowing my team to work to their unique abilities and to stay in my lane as roles and responsibilities are clarified. I will allow my team to tell me when I am out of my lane without responding to it in an emotional manner or taking it personally.

Commitment contracts should be as detailed as necessary to create a framework that will hold the team accountable for how they show up and interact with the members of the team. Once the commitment contract is developed and agreed to, it should be signed by each person, and everyone should receive a copy.

Step 3: Consequences (aka accountability)

Once your commitment contract is developed, the team should determine what will happen if a member chooses not to participate. This is an important step because, without it, there is no tangible reason for team members to work together to achieve a healthier state. Often, team members will agree to a course of action when they believe they can get what they want. If it appears they are not going to get their way, they may disconnect, cease to participate or escalate their disruptive behavior.

The consequence can be a carrot or a stick. An example of a carrot could be a financial reward for the team members who stick to the agreement and achieve a particular goal. An example of a stick could be team members lose their right to participate in meetings where the future of the operation is discussed.

You may determine your team wants to take the carrot and stick approach. Whatever you decide, the team must agree, and it should be added to your commitment contract.

Working through any level of dysfunction can be uncomfortable. Keep focused on:

  • Process, not individual people
  • Outcomes, not what has occurred in the past
  • Clarity, not confusion

And finally, remember that shifting the dynamics of a team takes time and a lot of grace. It will not happen overnight. The more time you commit to making things better, the faster positive outcomes will occur.  end mark

Rena Striegel
  • Rena Striegel

  • President
  • Transition Point - Business Advisors
  • Email Rena Striegel

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