B.C. TRANSITION TOOLKIT FOR NON-FAMILY FARM TRANSFER – Stage 1
Building a Common Vision: Communication and Relationships
Farm transition could be described as one long series of conversations. Starting the conversation is hard, but there are many discussions that need to happen, which means there are lots of entry points. These conversations might happen at different times in different places. Lots of farmers aren’t used to formal meetings, so don’t be surprised if you have discussions while fixing machinery, driving through the pasture, or weeding a row of carrots. These conversations also don’t generally happen one at a time or in one moment. They evolve and build over time. The topics suggested here are conversations to have with those involved in the transition, directly and indirectly, as well as questions to ask yourself.
Once each person involved in a transition has a sense of your individual vision, it’s time to build a common vision. This means sharing your hopes and concerns with each other and getting to know your respective visions, so that you can see where there is alignment and where more discussion is needed. Remember, it can take a long time to get to know each other, especially for those outside of the family, but this can also be true if it is a family member that has been away from the farm for a while. This is all about setting the relational and communication foundations and sharing expectations, which doesn’t happen overnight. Once you understand each other’s needs, you can figure out solutions and develop your plan.
In transition, everyone has a lot to learn. It’s easy to forget that this is the first time around for everyone involved. The learning curves are as huge for the current farmer as they are for the next generation in terms of how to support and mentor one another. We are all learners and teachers in this. You’re probably not going to get it right on the first try, and nothing is ever 100% perfect. Conflict will happen but with a good foundation, you can work through it.
- Stay curious and listen deeply. What’s the difference between listening and waiting to talk? Work to understand those involved and how they came to think the way they do.
- We often think of conflict as ME vs. YOU. What if we shifted that to US vs. the ISSUE? What doors does that open to working on a problem together?
- Ask open ended questions. Open-ended, exploratory conversations help build trust.
- Clarify your assumptions. Ask, what did you mean when…?
- Consider and acknowledge the other’s perspective. Let them know you heard them by using phrases such as: Sounds like ____ is really important to you, did I get that right?
- Seek common ground to build trust/understanding and identify the interests. Ask, what do we both value here? What is your basic concern in wanting this…?
- Avoid going straight to solutions. Explore each person’s needs and what’s important to each person in a solution before brainstorming as a team.
- Stay committed! Many of these conversations will be hard to navigate. If you all feel committed to working through a transition it will be easier to be vulnerable and overcome potential conflict.
- Strive to always end on a good note, and take the time to build positive relationships outside of the transition conversations (share meals, weed the carrots together, etc.).
- Establish a structure. This means setting schedules for meetings and sticking to them! It also helps to create an agenda and provide an opportunity for input on the topics of discussion.
QUESTIONS TO ASK EACH OTHER:
- Big Picture: What drives you? What makes you come alive? What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? What feeds your soul? What do you need to make your life meaningful?
- Intention: What drew you to this course of action? Why farming? What else would/could you be doing? Are you mentally, physically, economically, and socially prepared for farm life? What will have to change in your current lifestyle to move forward on this course?
- Situation & Context: What is the context? What is your sense of the situation? What’s currently working or not working? What questions do you have of everyone involved? What information do you need that would be helpful?
- Decision Making: Who are the decision makers? What roles/responsibilities does each person want to take on? Do they have the skills and, if not, how can they develop those skills? Who has veto power and over what? How are decisions made? What do we do when we don’t agree? What makes sense now? What do we want to move towards in the future?
- Planning: How would it work? How will it unfold over time? What would the relationship look like? What would the business and land agreement look like? What would be the overall plan?
- Working: What does the season-to-season, month-to-month, day-to-day look like? What resources do you bring/what do you need?
- Learning & Self-improvement: What would you need/want to learn to make this work? What skills do you bring to the transition? Where could you improve?
- Dispute Resolution: Differences of opinion are inevitable. Sometimes these are minor (“Where should we store this hose?”) and sometimes major (“We have different perceptions about the value of the farm business”). It’s essential to discuss what happens when a disagreement comes up so you have a plan for working through it together. Individual exercises can help you understand your communication style; share the results with each other so that you can better understand how to talk to each other effectively. For example, some people like to talk about disagreements as they happen, while others prefer to establish set meeting times to discuss things. Write down your dispute resolution process, including how you’ll handle day-to-day communications and what happens if you can’t solve a problem together: Will you bring in a mediator? Go to arbitration? Litigation?