Tips for making teams work better
At age ten the Farmer was doing chores before and after school and most of the weekend. This was normal for his family. It’s what his parents did and what their parents did.
I told him my kids were not doing that. Being a full-time farmer means kids don’t have the chance to figure out what they really want.
But now that we live on a farm, I see farming like a language. And the same way it seems sad to me that immigrants don’t teach their kids their native language, it seems sad to me to raise kids on a farm without teaching them how to farm.
So I told the kids they need to start doing more work on the farm.
Make the work matter.
We started with smaller jobs like collecting rotten pears to give to the pigs. It was my idea for something the family could do together.
But the kids could tell this was kid work that the parents were doing with the kids. The kids wanted to do adult work.
The final blow for kids collecting the pears was when the kids asked the Farmer if he did this job when he was a boy, and he said no.
I said, “What did you do with the pears on the ground?”
He said, “Nothing.”
Management is about patience.
When the Farmer tells me he is going to ask his dad to help him bed down the pigs, I ask if the kids can help him instead.
The kids meet the Farmer at the end of the barnyard and the Farmer says, “Go back and put on boots. This is a messy job.”
The kids say they don’t want to get their boots dirty.
“What are the boots for if you don’t want them dirty?”
“They’re for clean dirt. Not pig shit.”
“Hey, he can’t say that! Moooommm! He said a swear word!”
The Farmer gets the kids two pair of old boots. I put their names on the boots.
The job is already taking ten times longer that it would have with my father-in-law helping.
I tell the Farmer that I read that people who have gratitude have more patience.
He says, “P, I have plenty of patience.” He only starts a sentence with P when he’s being impatient. The Farmer thinks if he doesn’t say hurry up then he’s being patient.
I am patient with his inability to be patient, so I tell the kids just to do what he says.
An important part of farming is not talking. Farmers don’t talk to each other. They say it’s because animals get more difficult to work with if they hear voices. But really farmers get more difficult to work with if they hear voices. No one chooses farming to socialize.
Get the right people for the job.
The pigs need straw on the floor of their building to prevent it from becoming too wet.
And the pigs like to build little nests with the straw. When they get low on straw it gets mushy muddy on the floor, so we need to bring a huge hay bail to them.
The boys fail the first time.
Imagine two pre-teen boys fighting with each other in foot-deep pig manure, trying to handle 40 300-pound pigs. Do you have that image? Now imagine my older son gets his boot stuck in the manure.
“It was like quicksand!”
That’s how he explains it to me.
“It was like living hell,” is how the Farmer explains it to me.
So the next time I go with the boys to do the job.
Match each person with the right tools.
The trick is keeping the pigs away from the gate, but they love getting out of their building. For most of the summer the pigs are on pasture, so they know being in the building is a rip off.
The kids and I clear the gate end of the hoop building. Each boy takes one side. The Farmer gives the kids sticks to defend against the pigs. The younger boy is a natural, wielding the sticks like a Medieval warrior. The older son is horrified at the thought of accidentally poking the pig with a stick, and he screams about how the sticks are immoral. So he gets a panel. The pigs see both types of tools as something to avoid.
“Mom, what are you doing? You need a stick.”
“I’m supervising. Watch your pig.”
Teach people how to communicate.
Older son: Mom tell him to shut up.
Younger son: I’m doing call outs.
Older son: We don’t need call outs. This is not a video game.
Younger son: I’m just telling you where the dangers are. You were about to let a pig out.
Me: I thought people don’t like call outs.
Younger son: They like call outs. The big kids don’t like me talking during the game because they say I’m a squeaker.
Older son: Yeah well if older kids don’t want to hear you do call outs on your video game, then just assume I don’t want call outs either.
Me: Fine. Great. So we have some ground rules. Don’t talk unless someone is going to get hurt.
We take our positions. The Farmer drives the loader in the building with a hay bale for the pigs.
The boys stand quietly, probably thinking of the next thing to fight about. But for a short moment, all you hear is the snorting of pigs waiting for straw and the squish of the loader navigating manure.
Don’t put a non-manager in management.
We close up the gate. The pigs have hay bales, no pig was hurt, no child got stuck. It was a job well done. But the Farmer doesn’t say that. It doesn’t occur to him to say that.
I tell the boys “good job” and then the Farmer remembers he is supposed to be positive, and says, “Yeah. Good job. Thanks, you guys.” He is trying to be a motivational team leader, but he doesn’t see why people need to be motivated by someone else to do a good job.
“Show gratitude,” I tell him.
I know he privately sees a million ways the team could have worked better. We could have moved faster. We could have kept the pigs calmer. We could have stayed further away from the wheels of the loader.
I tell him a team is like a marriage. There is never just one crazy person in a marriage—because it takes a crazy person to pick a crazy person. And there is never a good manager managing a bad team. Because everyone can be a good team member if you give them what they need.
He says, “What does that mean?”
“It means if you want a more competent team, be a more competent leader.”
He is speechless.
The next time the pigs need bedding down, he does the job himself. Two pigs get out, and he has to herd them back into the hoop building, and it takes an extra thirty minutes, but he’d rather do that himself than lead a team.
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