Owning and managing a family business such as a family farm offers unique benefits and challenges to the family members involved. Purdue University Extension specialist Aadron Rausch offers practical ideas for good family-business relationships.

On the up side, the family farm offers family members the opportunity to cooperate, set goals, develop strategic plans, and make decisions that generate profits to support economic success and financial independence. The challenge, however, is to create and sustain appropriate boundaries between the family and the farm business. One way to meet this challenge is to pay as much attention to family relationships as you do to the management of your farm business.

Family-relationship management is entirely different from farm-business management. Maintaining family relationships entails attention to personal relationship, parenting, cooperation, and love and respect among family members. You are probably thinking, “easier said than done.”

Managing boundaries between the farm business and the family is challenging. For example, managers of farm businesses need to decide how to distribute income between the farm and family expenses, and how to balance work and family time. Intensity of feelings, confusion between family roles and management roles, and personal temperament and communication style influence how the family and farm business function. Conscious and deliberate goal setting and planning can help family members anticipate possible challenges and create effective strategies for addressing issues related to farm-business and family-relationship management.

Explore family feelings

Identify feelings and issues that get in the way of sound business practices. Families that talk about feelings and concerns before they become problems can develop effective coping strategies that provide the most benefit for the family and the farm business.

Develop guidelines & agreements

Anticipate possible problems, and establish guidelines and agreements that provide effective solutions but still allow enough flexibility to address the unique nature of particular issues.

Recognize the family’s role in the business

Establish agreement about family members’ roles in the family and in the farm business. The role of the family is to promote and support the growth, development, and welfare of family members. The role of the family in promoting and supporting the farm business is dependent upon the individual family member’s role in the family business. For example, one person may provide support through balancing farm finances, while another family member may assist during periods of high production.

Understand individual family members’ roles

Understand how each family member sees his or her role in the family business. Confusion about role responsibility can lead to feelings of inadequacy or isolation if family members are unsure about their roles.

More information and a handy checklist are available from PurdueUniversity.