Bulletin #4802, Maine Farms: Successful Farm Team Meetings

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Maine Farms: Life and Business in Balance

By Leslie Forstadt, Human Development Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

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This publication series, Maine Farms: Life and Business in Balance, provides ideas for you to consider about the human and relational skills of farming including how to have farm team meetings, stress management, defining roles, and talking about life and business balance, or what some people think of as “work/life integration.” Whatever it means to you, this series is intended to provide you with useful ideas to consider.

Titles include:

person with clipboard takes notes; photo by Edwin remsberg

This publication is focused on how to have successful farm team meetings. You will likely have different types of farm crew meetings that vary in length and frequency.

Regular meetings are essential to the success of any business, whether it’s a family, a cooperative, or an owner with employees. Farming is no different. A good meeting can draw a team closer, sharpen the vision for the farm business, and rekindle the passion for farming. Meetings can be a time for business issues or family issues — the most important thing is that everyone is clear about the purpose of the meeting. Meetings are a time for everyone to be educated about what is happening on the farm. These meetings can help ensure that all farm team members are working toward the same goals, and can be a time and place to come to an agreement and make decisions. They are a time to be transparent about decisions already made or ideas that are in the works. Meetings are also an opportunity to recognize and appreciate special efforts that make the farm successful.

Consider the following tips to run productive and successful farm team meetings.

Where and When

Find a time that works regularly and a place that has the least distractions. Pick a time and place that will create the best environment to accomplish the purpose of your meeting. Decide who will answer the business phone if it goes to voicemail for the duration of the meeting. Meet regularly, rather than only when big decisions need to be made. This avoids surprises and gets people into the habit of discussing issues and making decisions together, both big and small. The practice of making small decisions together will lay a strong foundation for larger decisions.

If you use whole-farm planning1 — including the creation of annual and quarterly goals for the business, the family, and the land — you can use this time to review your goals.


Decide who will be at the meeting. All employees including managers? Apprentices? Will family members be invited and if so, their spouses? Will you invite all of your children? Depending on the purpose of the meeting, should multiple generations like grandchildren be present?  Will the attendees vary depending on the topic?


Decide together on a regular structure for roles and responsibilities during a meeting. Will the meetings always be led by the same person, or will people take turns? How can everyone contribute to the agenda in advance and who will send it to everyone? Who will take notes? Are there parts of the meetings where advisors (attorney, accountant, financial planner, etc.) will be present? Is there a cost associated with having advisors there?

What and Why

Prepare a written agenda. Farm meetings work best when there are no surprises or hidden agendas. Send out to the agenda to all participants before the meeting. This is the time to ask for their feedback and any additional agenda items they want to see covered. If the team knows before the meeting that their concerns will be heard, they will be more likely to be engaged participants.

Keep notes of the agenda, who attended, decisions made, and action items. Before or during the meeting, identify proposed “action items” in the agenda, i.e., the decisions or actions that should result from the meeting. Not all items have to have a decision or an action: sometimes an item may be brought up just to keep everyone informed. Keep the notes in a binder or shared online document. These records can be useful in case someone missed a meeting, as a historical record of the farm, and in the case of future disagreements.

Have working agreements (also known as ground rules) for your meetings. These might include the following:

  • Everyone gets a turn to weigh in.
  • Everyone will try to take no more than [__] minutes for their turn.
  • Everyone’s opinion is valued.
  • Stick to the agenda (and create a “parking lot” for other items to be discussed at the end of the meeting, or a future meeting).

Decision Making

Decide and talk about how decisions will be made at meetings. Consider these three major decision-making models: advise and consent, majority rule, and consensus.

  • Advise and consent means that the group advises the primary farm decision-maker(s). He, she, or they then do what is felt to be best, hopefully taking the advice into account. This model can work as long as everyone knows and agrees that this is the model being used.
  • Majority rule means the group votes by ownership or percentage. The votes of those with a larger ownership stake in the farm carry more weight.
  • Consensus means all agree after a process of discussion.

There is a place for all of these models, depending on the issue being discussed and the dynamics of the team. It is critical here to be aware of power dynamics. Those with perceived authority, tenure, age, or status should be aware of their position. In decision making it may take extra time to hear from everyone and consider the priorities and goals. If final decisions are made by one person, it can be important to communicate why decisions are made and what priorities and goals are in mind. The more inclusive the meeting, the more investment by all team members, and the more care and perspectives will be part of the decisions that are made.

The Whole Farmer

Allow part of each meeting’s agenda to consider personal, non-business issues if this is needed. How is everyone doing? e. Give as much time to people as you do to production. This means including agenda items for sharing passions, like “why the farm is important” to each individual, and what the shared “community activities” are. Understand each person’s challenges and what brings them a feeling of accomplishment.

The agenda can provide time to share each person’s vision and to build human capital in the form of educating, informing, and inspiring one another. Once or twice a year have a visioning meeting: ask one another where you see this business going over time. What do you like and dislike? What is important to you? What are your dreams and hopes for the future? For those family-run operations, there can be tension in the very phrase, “family business.” When the business is the farm and you also live on the farm, it can often feel as if you’re working every minute. Each family member or meeting participant will have a different view of his or her relationship with the family and with the farm, and of the relative importance of each. Some people will view the farm as primary, with the family serving the needs of the farm. Other members will view the family as primary, with the farm serving the needs of the family. Discussing and recognizing this tension among the family members will help a lot in conversations and decision-making for the farm and family.


Conflict is inevitable. And it can be a source of new ideas and energy. Conflict often arises when two people have needs that are not being met. Developing good communication skills can help you the next time conflict happens during a meeting. Instead of avoiding conflict, there are ways to find common ground to have a conversation.

  • Establish working agreements. This can allow and encourage all participants to speak out and share their ideas and concerns without fear of being put down or judged. All insights have value, even if they are not acted upon.
  • Practice reflective listening. When you hear something that you disagree with, instead of confrontation or challenge, try to learn more. “What I heard you say is X, can you tell me more about that?”
  • Put yesterday behind you and start today. Try not to let old disagreements or actions from the past color today’s discussions. When the past creeps into today, try to understand what needs are not being met (being listened to, being valued, having a say in the decision).
  • If necessary, bring in an outside facilitator or mediator to help with important and particularly stressful discussions. There are programs like the Agricultural Mediation Program that are designed to support farms with conversation and decision-making.

Conflict happens and it can feel uncomfortable. There are many ways to develop skills that will help you have conversations and meetings in a way that conflicts don’t create ongoing tension and hostility.

Post-Meeting Action Items 

After the meeting, follow up on action items and ensure follow-through by others. If team members . see that their input is valued and acted upon, and if there is shared responsibility for the next steps, more team members will be willing to participate and excited to contribute.

Most of all, have fun. Celebrate your successes. Play together. Share family stories. Recognize accomplishments by individuals in the family team. Talk about what makes your farm unique and special.

Adapted with permission from Clint Bentz, “Running a Successful Family Meeting,” Farm and Ranch Survival Kit 3 (Washington State University and Oregon State University)


1 Marrison, D. L., (2007). Whole Farm Planning Model. Building for the Successful Transition of Your Agricultural Business Series, Ohio State University Extension ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/anr-52

Thank you to Jason Lilley, Assistant Extension Professor, for review of this publication. 

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

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