How to get the work done AND Keep Peace in the Family

Clarifying Who does What can make a big difference

Originally published  at on 3/7/2022.

One way or another, the work always gets done. We know that. But how the work gets done and who is in charge of the work is a much more complicated question. I recently gave a presentation to a group of dairy farmers when one raised his hand.

“How do we get the work done AND keep the peace on our family farm?” After a follow-up question, he said his family was going through a transition from one generation to the next and who was in charge of what was getting murky. Frustrations were building because everyone was stepping on everyone else’s toes. I believe it was unintentional, but it was starting to wear on people. The employees were caught in the middle.


It was a pretty simple question but common during a transition plan. When the kids were young, Dad probably made all the decisions and gave out the list of instructions. It worked well for years.

A typical transition occurs when Dad either isn’t physically capable of doing the same level of work as someone younger, doesn’t want to, or both. A transition plan often has brothers or cousins who are adults and ready to take on more responsibility yet don’t want to step on Dad’s toes either.

One way to keep the peace and get the work done is by creating specific roles for everyone. This often means that people are allowed to be in charge of a particular area or task. Defining roles keep workers from stepping on each other’s toes.

During a transition or growth model on a dairy, roles need to shift and change to keep the momentum and not get bogged down with infighting and inefficiency. Getting bogged down happens if one generation keeps a grip on being in charge of everything and not spreading out the accountability among the other generations and employees.

If not eliminated, infighting and inefficiency can be improved with a  new twist on an old concept. You may have heard of an organization chart. The CEO was at the top with the VP’s below and so on.

But on a dairy farm, who cares about titles?  What’s most important are the results of a great dairy herd that is well managed. So instead of focusing on titles, build what I call the Accountability Chart.

There are many variations of this, and we’ve helped farms build out elaborate and also simple Accountability Charts. (Learn more about Accountability Charts here)

Here is what building an accountability chart does.
  1. Clearly shows who is in charge of what work area, outcome, or tasks.
  2. It gives a clear picture of who answers to whom at each level.
  3. Ensures that only one person is ultimately accountable for each work area.
  4. It shows where someone is overworked or underworked. It reveals gaps in roles.
  5. Is future looking so the senior generation can give up or keep tasks, but everyone is clear about what all generations are in charge of.

I have often heard from farmers that building and using the accountability chart was one of the most essential parts of starting the transition process.  At some point or another, every farmer will no longer be daily in charge of what they started. Farm legacies are most potent when the work gets done, and people get along. That’s a legacy that anyone can be proud of.