Team communication for farm businesses

Good communication is one of the most important skills to have in business and can have a big impact on productivity

How often do you find yourself saying, “I told them to do that job in that way, so I don’t understand why they’ve done it wrong?” Or, as an employee, do you find yourself thinking, “I don’t understand how to do this job,” or “I don’t know how to talk to my boss”?

Explaining how to do a job correctly in the first place not only saves idle hours but also prevents mistakes and boosts morale. When your employees know what is expected of them, and feel empowered to do their job well and valuable to the business, productivity and staff retention are your rewards.

Here are some simple actions to help review your communication skills and identify areas of improvement.

Understand the communication styles of yourself and your team

This webinar focused on 'conversations with results' will help you to plan and deliver effective communication with your family and team. You will discover how to:

  • Understand the benefits of good communication and the cost of poor communication
  • Recognise your own communication preference, and those of your team, using an interactive quiz
  • Use the practical tools provided below to help you improve your communication

 

Explore the communication preferences of yourself and within your team using this downloadable worksheet:

Communication styles quiz

The seven most important communication tips

  1. Make time for people – genuinely listen to them and help them feel that they make a difference
  2. When giving instructions, explain why something needs to be done, so the employee appreciates the importance of doing it correctly
  3. Encourage dialogue between you and your team members by asking open questions to check what they have understood (or not understood)
  4. Remember that not everyone is like you, so you need to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see things from their point of view
  5. Use technology to keep your staff informed; for example, create WhatsApp groups for teams or specific jobs
  6. Use visual cues such as colour coding, farm maps and pictures to show people what needs to be done and to confirm locations
  7. Think about informal ways you can bring teams together, such as over a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Give people space to talk

Find out how you can achieve these below.

The Farm Chain

The Farm Chain is a simple, visual way to show how each individual’s job depends on other people and how other people depend on them. Each link in the chain makes a difference and adds value to the business, so when something goes wrong, there is a knock-on effect with a ‘cost’ to the individual (for example, hassle, people chasing after them, letting people down) and to the farm. Effective communication within the Chain is critical for success.

The Farm Chain can be used with teams and individuals to discuss what weak spots or breaking points there might be on farm and to agree how to strengthen each link. Because the focus is on the chain, not individuals, it can stimulate effective discussion.

Tips for agreeing a job

  • Have a clear, written description of what you need someone to do and how you will measure their success; for example, time taken to do the job, numbers achieved, deadlines hit. If you don’t have it in writing (protocols, task lists, etc.), people can forget and just make the job up as they go along
  • When writing up job roles, involve experienced individuals. This will allow you to check their understanding, but also puts their experience on paper so others can learn from them, rather than it just being in their heads
  • Motivate staff by communicating and ensuring they understand the difference they make as a link in the Farm Chain, both when they get the job right and when they get it wrong
  • Once a job has been communicated, check understanding. This can be done via observation, asking questions, or looking at the results they are delivering
  • Monitor and regularly review progress so that if people drift off track, you can give feedback and help them to improve before small mistakes become bigger ones
  • Don’t assume that people will see a job the same way you do. They are not you and don’t have your experience. It is your responsibility to check their understanding

This template will help you explain what a good job looks like, monitor and review progress and emphasise the difference a job well done will make to the farm:

Communicating a good job

Constructive feedback checklist

Destructive feedback ✘

(Feedback that does not create change)

Constructive feedback ✔

(Feedback that influences change)

Dumping 

Avoid saving up feedback over a period of time and dumping it on people out of the blue

Little and often

Give feedback while it is still fresh in both your minds, but bear in mind when they will be most receptive to it (maybe not after a tough day)

Vague

Don’t give general feedback that can be challenged; e.g., “you never come in on time,” or “you were great in that team briefing yesterday”

Specific

Give facts and examples in your feedback; e.g., “last week you were 10 minutes late on Tuesday and Friday,” or “you asked a really good question at the end of the meeting, which helped us rethink how we do that job in future”

Judgemental

Telling someone they are ‘irritating’ isn’t very helpful. That might be your opinion, but it will not help them change. You can’t change personalities, but you can change behaviour

Descriptive

Always describe behaviours; for example, “when you talked over other people in that meeting it made it difficult for others to hear what was being said”

Subjective

“I really don’t like the way you do that job, it’s not how I would do it”

Objective

“I just need to understand why you aren’t following the protocol that the farm has in place on that job”

Past

“I am fed up with having to keep telling you about this… how many more times do we have to go over it?”

Future

“We have now had this conversation several times. You tell me what we need to do to avoid having the same conversation in this office next week”

Tips for giving feedback

  • Before giving any feedback, make sure people understand the purpose of feedback and how it helps them and the farm. Feedback gives people a chance to get the job right; it’s not intended to be a ‘telling off’ or something to make them feel bad
  • Always agree your expectations and set people up for success before giving them feedback on how they are performing – at least give them a chance to get the job right!
  • Give balanced feedback so people hear as much about what they are getting right as what you want them to improve on
  • Be prepared and use evidence, examples or information to support your feedback. For example, “you have been 15 minutes late four times this week,” rather than “someone mentioned to me last week that you always seem to be late.” Avoid using views and opinions like, “I don’t think you are very reliable”
  • Feedback should be a conversation. Ask questions and listen to your team members’ explanations and ideas
Use this communication spidergram to explore communication strengths and weaknesses, both individually and as a team

Carrying out reviews

Review frameworks can be used for team reviews to focus discussion and capture feedback, or with individuals. Remember: if performance is not reviewed, and no feedback is given, problems can escalate and create more work for everyone!

  • Reviews can be informal (for example, walking around the farm or just having a conversation with someone) or formal (having a private conversation off-farm, such as in a quarterly or annual performance review)
  • Be clear about the focus of the review; for example, is it about a specific job, a project, or a specific period of time (last week, last month, last quarter etc.)?
  • Use an ‘asking’ not ‘telling’ style of feedback, so individuals tell you what they think before you give them your view
  • For balance, feedback must always include a discussion of what has gone well Start the feedback session with a focus on positives to help build confidence and make it easier to deliver more negative messages
  • Make sure you have evidence, information and examples to back up any feedback you want to give
  • Reviews should always move to ‘action,’ which either includes building on strengths or addressing weaknesses
  • Make a note of what has been agreed so that this can be referred to when monitoring progress
Use this simple review framework to record the outcomes of reviews Access more tools and tips on running effective staff appraisals

Running team briefings

Team briefings tend to be shorter team meetings and focus on improving performance and tackling day-to-day issues and problems.

  • Let attendees know the purpose of team briefings and why it is important for them to be there
  • Ask people what they want to discuss so the meeting feels like it is ‘theirs,’ not just ‘yours’
  • Ensure everybody has the opportunity to put their ideas and views forward (not just the louder members of the team)
  • Give people space to think; for example, when you give information or figures, give people a few minutes to read and take it in
  • Manage time and keep to the meeting plan. If people start to talk about things not relevant to the meeting, ask them to write it down so it can be covered at a later time
  • Check understanding by asking open questions; for example, “how often has that gone wrong?” Or, “what would you do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?”
  • To check understanding, ask everyone to talk through any actions they are taking away. Keep a record of these, as people can forget
  • Depending on where you are and what resources you have available, topics for discussion, and actions, can be recorded on a whiteboard or on paper
  • If you are meeting to discuss a specific issue on farm, it can be useful to hold the meeting close to the area that issue occurs, so people can see it first-hand

Use this template to communicate topics of discussion before a meeting, and to record and remind team members about what needs to be done, by whom and by when.

Record and monitor actions using this team briefing template Find out more and watch a webinar on planning and running effective farm meetings

Tips for asking questions

  • When you put people at ease and show genuine interest in them, they will talk to you
  • The tone of your questions influences how much people share with you. If you come across as, “give me the right answer,” or “I’m checking up on you,” then people may feel less confident in talking to you. If you come across as, “I’m interested in what you have to say,” then people are more likely to open up
  • Open questions (what, when, where, why, who, how) encourage people to talk – if the right tone of voice is used
  • TED can help you to set the right tone when asking questions:
    • T = Tell – “Tell me a bit more about what happened yesterday”
    • E = Explain – “Just explain to me a bit more about why you don’t think we can meet that deadline”
    • D = Describe – “Describe to me what was going on in the barn yesterday, when we had that accident”
  • You cannot script open questions because you need to listen to what people say to you and this will affect your next question
  • When asking questions, give people time and space to think. Be careful not to come across as though you are interrogating them
  • Some people benefit from questions being written down. For example, “I’ve got a couple of questions for you to have a think about. I’ve written them down so when we meet up at break time you can talk me though any ideas you have”
  • Questions help people think – and if you can help them think, you can prevent unnecessary anxiety and worry. Getting people to talk can help them solve problems, improve confidence and feel more in control
  • Use open questions with contractors and suppliers to make sure they have the same understanding as you and prevent unnecessary mistakes

Question bank

Questions to get feedback and check understanding

(before doing the job)

  • What are your plans for today? Just talk them through with me
  • What do you think are the most important jobs to get finished this morning?
  • Who else needs to be involved to get that job finished on time?
  • What time will you update me on that?
  • What problems do you think we might face today?
  • What do you think we need to do to hit that target by 4pm?

Questions to get feedback and check understanding

(on the job)

  • How’s it going today?
  • What’s been happening this morning?
  • How have you been managing with Pete off sick?
  • What have you done so far today?
  • What do you need from me to hit the deadline we agreed?
  • What do you think we need to do?

Questions to get feedback and check understanding

(after completing the job)

  • What’s gone well today?
  • What could have gone better today?
  • What do you think we need to change or do differently this afternoon/tomorrow?
  • How can we make sure that doesn’t happen again?
  • Why don’t you think that worked?
  • What ideas do you have?

Questions to ask suppliers/contractors

  • What exactly do I get for that money?
  • What does a ‘good job’ look like to you?
  • Who will be involved in the work?
  • How often will you update me on progress?
  • When will that be delivered by?
  • What exactly have we agreed – can you just summarise that for me?
  • What do you need from me to make sure this works?
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