During my 32 years of farm family counseling, I can trace every farm family failure (families no longer farming) to one of seven mistakes. These failures did not result from a crop production disaster or low milk prices or even financial troubles, but from the inability of the family to effectively communicate and work together as a team for the success of their dairy.

Avoid the following mistakes to create a more productive and harmonious family work force.

Mistake 1 

The father-adult son (or daughter) farming relationship turns into a parent-child relationship. Not all families are meant to farm together. Dad must be willing to share control and decision-making with his adult farming children. If Dad always wears the boss hat (my way or else), adult children often lose their motivation for the family business and may leave for another opportunity just to escape Dad’s boss hat.    

Mistake 2 

Family members gossip about each other rather than talk to each other to resolve differences. Gossip only leads to misunderstandings in any family. And, misunderstandings quickly turn into family conflicts. One simple rule about gossip: never do it. If you cannot honestly tell another person (family member or employee) what you are feeling, then you should not tell someone else. 

Mistake 3 

Family members carry personal grudges against each other. Grudges only cause more stress and tension among family members and employees. If you are upset with someone (which is a normal feeling), tell them about it in a positive manner and explain your reasons why. Then forget it and move forward. Most individuals want to harbor their resentment as long as possible in hopes of getting back at the other person later. That strategy solves nothing and results in broken relationships — and businesses.

Mistake 4 

Simple disagreements turn into family fights. Arguments go beyond the boiling point and tempers take over. There is no cooling-off period. Threats are exchanged that cause irreparable damage in the working relationships of any family. It is not wrong to disagree with someone as long as there is respect and trust in that relationship. People can disagree with each other and still be friends. But if they fight with each other, their friendship quickly ends. 

Mistake 5 

Family members and employees are not able to have open and honest discussions. People are not able “to say what they mean and mean what they say” when discussing issues with others. They disguise their feelings or cloud over the real issue. This failure to communicate only invites a business failure. Rather than working together as a team, they end up working against each other.

Mistake 6 

Family members fail to set goals for the family and the business. They are not able to discuss priorities and determine a direction for the future of their operation. Without goals and priorities, these family members are never in step with each other. There is no formal decision-making process. Without a vision, the family bumps along from one internal crisis to the next. 

Mistake 7 

Family members in the dairy farm business are not willing to get along as a family. There is no team approach to their working relationships. They only care about their own feelings. This lack of harmony quickly leads to feelings of hostility between everyone in the dairy operation.  

Next time, I will identify and discuss the characteristics of family dairies with a long record of success and family harmony.

Ron Hanson is a Neal E. Harlan professor of agribusiness at the Universityof Nebraska.