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5 ‘action’ steps for successful families and teams

Hank Wagner for Progressive Dairy Published on 13 September 2019

There are more than five things that great families and teams do, but these are important ones to practice. Great families and teams don’t just happen; they are created, protected and nurtured. The steps I am sharing are all “action” items, which means they won’t happen without a diligent and determined effort to make them happen.

1. Come to a consensus of what success means to you

The dictionary describes success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” There is no clear universal picture of success because all people, and all families or teams, are different, and that is OK; it’s supposed to be that way. The important thing is to know what success means to you. Don’t let others define what success for your family should look like. Knowing what success for a family or team looks like begins with knowing what success for the individual is. A family or team becomes highly motivated when each individual sees how their personal success fits into the success of the family or team.



The important thing is to include everyone’s ideas of what the family or team’s success should look like and be able to come to a consensus on it. Success for a family is rarely a destination and can better be described as a generational journey. Having that clear definition of what success is for your family helps keep everyone motivated and on task, and it makes it easier to see and celebrate victories all along the way.

2. Have vision

People see in pictures. If I say the words “red elephant,” you don’t see the letters that spell out “red elephant.” You envision a picture of a red elephant. What is the picture you see of your family or team? Is it a picture of what it has been or a picture of what it can become? Many people assume their future is a continuation of their past, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Great leaders, families and teams can see beyond their past, and see what is possible for their future. They not only have vision, but they are also able to help others on their teams see the picture of what is possible for them.

3. Set goals

Once a clear picture of what is possible is communicated and agreed on, it is then very valuable to put in some checkpoints for the journey. Goals give us small targets to shoot for along the way to accomplishing the master vision. Having smaller goals helps break down the big picture into smaller, easier-to-accomplish bites. It is like setting up a roadmap for a vacation and planning each stop along the way. Having clear goals also gives plenty of opportunities to celebrate victories. It is important to have individual goals, family or team goals, and business goals. It is also a good idea to have short-, mid- and long-term goals for each category.

Should business goals be in line with personal goals, or should personal goals be crafted to fit the picture you see for the business? The good news is you get to decide, and I would suggest that you start with coming to a consensus about what is most important to you and your family or team.

4. Communicate

There is so much to talk about regarding communication, and rather than go into deep truths about it, I would like to point out three important things about communication. First, communication is a learned skill, and what you have learned up until this point in your life may not all be good communication skills. The way you learned to communicate as a family while growing up may not be the best way, so be willing to seek out ways to intentionally improve communication. Read some books, get some training or hire an adviser.


Second, communicate regularly, and not just about farm tasks or getting the work done. Set aside time to specifically talk about feelings, joys, hopes, expectations, frustrations, hurts, etc. And finally, make sure listening is a major part of all communication. Hearing is not the same as listening. Too many people listen to reply, rather than to truly seek to understand. Great listeners listen not only to the words spoken, but also to facial expressions, tone of voice and emotions, or other body language to better understand what others are saying.

5. Be quick to apologize and forgive

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to do things right. We will all miss it sometimes. Mistakes are a part of life, and sometimes we unintentionally hurt others. Strong families create an environment where it is safe to share hurts with one another. A great way to create that safe environment is to be quick to apologize and forgive. There is rarely any need to justify our mistakes or make the other person prove that we hurt them. Strong relationships listen, apologize, forgive and move on.  end mark

Hank Wagner is a dairy farmer in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin.