The Value of Teamwork

December 6, 2013 06:43 PM
The Value of Teamwork

Job descriptions help clarify roles on the family farm

Sometimes the best way to know where you’re going is to identify where you’ve been. That sounds simple enough, but for busy farm families, it takes diligence to put into practice.  Those who make the effort are able to identify the details necessary to build a useful, practical job description for each family member employed in the operation, according to Kevin Spafford, Farm Journal succession planning expert.

"It’s basically doing a job analysis with each person, tracking the specific actions he or she takes each day over the course of a designated time frame," Spafford says. "The resulting information gives you a starting point for devel­oping individual job descriptions."

Farm families often question the value of job descriptions because of the all-too-common "we’ve done well without one for years" attitude. Accor­ding to Spafford, what they underestimate are the benefits even simple job descriptions offer.

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They can provide family members clarity about individual roles and respon­sibilities, help them become more efficient as a team, and shine a spotlight on tasks that might be falling between the cracks and need to be assigned. In addition, Spafford says job descriptions help reduce assumptions, a factor that can contribute to hurt feelings and tension between family members who work together.

"Job descriptions identify which family member is responsible for certain tasks or functions on the farm and create accountability," Spafford says.

Building blocks. Greg Dell and sons, Gary and Doug, started tracking their individual, daily activities on their Westminster, Md., farm this past July. While it requires a daily commitment, the men say it’s not hard or time-consuming.

"During harvest, it was really easy," Doug says. "Basically, for a month and a half, I wrote down about the same thing every day—operating the grain cart while the corn was being shelled and spreading cover crops," he explains with a chuckle.

Gary’s roles during harvest were also fairly redundant and easy to track. He managed the family’s grain mill and loaded and unloaded grain trucks.

Later this winter, the Dells plan to chart each family member’s primary responsibilities month-by-month, evaluate how those responsibilities are divided up and determine whether their individual assignments need to change or remain the same.

In the process of working on their job descriptions, the Dells have determined that family members need to have some cross-training. This will enable them to cover each other’s job assignments in a pinch and allow everyone vacation time. For instance, only Gary currently has a commercial class A driver’s license, which enables him to run the farm’s semi grain trucks. Getting that same license is one of Doug’s goals for 2014.

"That could help us manage workloads better and have more flexibility, and those are both good things," Doug says, adding a common refrain farmers know all too well: "Now, if we can just find more hours in the day to get
everything done." 

You can e-mail Rhonda Brooks at

To develop a comprehensive job description for each role on your farm, visit

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