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How to spot common conflict areas in farm families: Part two in a series

Family fosters connections, while businesses foster profit. Can the two co-exist?

Last week we laid out the premise that there is an inherent, built-in, conflict between family and business because their desired outcomes are different.

because their desired outcomes are different.

The purpose of the family is to foster connections to each other. The purpose of a farm business is profit. The common denominator between farm business and farm family are the family members who work and live in each realm.

We will flesh out the more common differences in this post so you will be able to spot these conflict areas if they appear on your family farm.

Inherent differences between the family farm and the family business


Born into
-Backward Focused (traditions)
-Relationship Orientated


-Hired into
-Paid for Performance
-Forward Focused (change is constant)
-Risk Taking
-Profit & Results Orientated Let's look at some common differences and explore the ramifications of these differences to the family farm.

Born into vs hired into

It is easy to get into a family. All you have to do is be born, and the membership is good for life! 

On the other hand, businesses are best when they hire the best employees possible. Things get confusing when people believe that just because they are family, they should also be an employee.

In an unbiased world only the best people would be hired by the family farm. In reality, family blood runs thick and family gets preference in the hiring process.

Often the earliest memories of children are those of following a parent around the family farm, so from an early age this line is very blurry and often doesn't exist. Ultimately, for family members, the right to work on the family farm feels like a birthright instead of something earned. 

Equal vs Fair

As soon as their children are born, parents obsess about equality. This makes sense because in a family circle everyone is equal. For example, most parents love their children equally and when Christmas comes they typically spend an equal amount of money on the presents for each child. These same tendencies of equality within the family carry through to adulthood. However, businesses realize not all employees are equal and some are worthy of more pay based on ability.

Once again the line between family and business is blurred, which can lead to confusion and conflict.   

Relationships vs Results

Families thrive on traditions, resist change, and are based on fostering and maintaining relationships based on bloodlines. There are special family traditions, family stories and a strong connection to the past. These cornerstones are important and family ties are important. We are more likely to help family in times of need than strangers and so a family serves an important function of safety as well. 

Business is forward looking, and while there are relationships, they exist because of the business, and have a purpose to further the goals of the company. In order to thrive a business must take risks, be willing to change and not stay tethered to old ways of operating. 

Although we didn’t cover our entire list of differences, we did provide a taste of how the focus of a strong family differs from the focus of a successful business.

In the next installment we will look at ways to bridge this divide and actually use the best of family strengths and business strengths to create a resilient farm family business.

Tim Schaefer founded Encore Consultants to provide specialized advising and coaching to farm families and agribusiness at the crossroads of change.  With over 20 years of experience advising farmers, Tim was an early pioneer of peer advisory groups for agriculture as a way for successful farmers to gain knowledge, ideas and skills from each other in a non-competitive environment. Tim can be reached at or

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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