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Team Huddle

April 2, 2014
By: Sara Schafer, Farm Journal Media Business and Crops Editor
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Play up everyone’s strengths for peak results

Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success. This common locker-room saying is just as applicable on the farm. A clean handoff between two generations requires farm families to act, think and operate as a team.

Many operations include members with varying degrees of responsi­bility. You have those in charge of the daily tasks and others who have off-farm jobs yet still contri­bute to or depend on the livelihood of the operation. 

Leadership can be the biggest gap in a succession plan, says Kevin Spafford, Farm Journal succession planning expert. "Today, the duty to run the farm belongs to the controlling gener­ation," he adds. "Tomorrow, it may be sons, daughters and/or employees. Are they ready to lead?"
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Know your team. Recognizing everyone’s skills and interests will make your operation stronger, notes Heather Gessner, South Dakota State University Extension livestock business management field specialist. 

When a second generation is first coming back to the farm, Gessner explains, sometimes it is more efficient to divide respon­si­bil­ities by enterprises. "Put one person in charge of the cows and someone else in charge of the crops," she says. "That way, no one has the full load and each person can concentrate on a specific area."

By divvying up responsibilities in this manner, you can identify the natural talents of each team member. "Everyone wants to feel needed, and every little task is important," Gessner says. 

Try assigning data management, advertising or harvest meal responsi­bilities to someone who doesn’t work full-time on the farm—if they have an interest and the skill set to succeed in those areas. Then they can contri­bute to the operation’s success while expanding their knowledge about the farm. 

Before you put certain people in charge of certain tasks, make sure they are up to the challenge. For each member of your team, assess their current strengths and areas for growth. Who is good at setting goals? Who can accept criticism and use failures as a learning opportu­nity? Who is good at delegating duties?

Use this inventory as the starting point to build a tailored development plan for each team member, Spafford encourages. 

The in-laws. When using the team approach, multifamily operations will have to involve the in-laws. Some farmers are hesitant to share financial or private information with a son-in-law or daughter-in-law. The risk to not educating in-laws about the farm is immense, Spafford says. 

"In-laws will affect your plan 100%, whether they are involved directly in the operation or if it’s only pillow talk," he says. "You have nothing to lose by including them and everything to lose if you don’t."

Of course, in-laws need to be willing to engage. Regardless, Spafford says, you must make the invite. "Most of them do love the farm, and they certainly love your family," he says. "Many times, in-laws only hear about the farm when the spouse had a bad day. Be sure to share the good things, too."

In-laws who didn’t grow up on a farm won’t fully understand the agronomic, financial or seasonal responsibilities on a farm, Gessner says. But those with off-farm jobs will likely have skills that are useful for the farm operation. "Be honest and open to their suggestions and questions," she says.

Download our "Leadership Skills Inventory" to help assess your team’s skills at

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - April 2014
RELATED TOPICS: Legacy Project, Top Producer

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