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Future Farm Workplaces

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Future Farm Workplaces
By Hamish Murray

Hamish Murray – Scholar presentation (May 2020)

Executive Summary

Agriculture is awakening to the challenges of an ageing population and those entering the workforce with a new or differing attitude to work and life. That automation and technology is removing much of the mundane and labour-intensive work, outdated work structures and traditional ways of doing things are not providing the fulfilling work experience that is required to attract, train and retain the people required to power our industry. We are faced with the challenge of adapting our practice to meet the needs of those we employ or risk becoming irrelevant as employers and as an industry.  I set out looking into what makes workplaces motivating and engaging so that they are providing the best work environments for those involved.

My intention with this report and research is to spark small and subtle shifts in the way a leader or participants in a team operate, that lead to a more fulfilling and enjoyable working experience. Then to direct people to some of the resources that have helped shape my learning. My travel and experience have been an opportunity to look at businesses outside of agriculture, both large and small. I have been able to discover examples of reorganising and operation in industries from computer game development to healthcare and professional sport that address changing values and expectations of today’s workforce allowing greater engagement and motivation from those employees.

I have been looking for and have come across great teams who are meeting all the needs of their members and producing great results. I discovered that the most important factor in determining effectiveness is how teams work together. Team members awareness of each other and of the team roles that they fulfill, combined with the group held belief that the environment is safe for interpersonal risk ultimately leads to great trust and dependability illustrated as a mutual accountability.

Reflecting on interviews and notes, four other key elements emerge strongly as significant factors in those successful businesses and teams. Alignment of members on the culture, values and purpose of a business creating shared belief, expectations and responsibility, with the greatest results when real clarity from team members on what that looks, sounds and feels like as actions.

Exposure to the processes, tools and methods used in Design Thinking, Lean and Agile ways of working combine diverse individual thoughts, promotes collaboration and inclusiveness, and operates using a rapid experiment and feedback loops promote fast progress rather than being stifled by the need for consensus and perfection.

Time spent with computer game developers made me aware of the importance of feedback in our lives and especially for providing engaging workplaces where employees have a desire to grow. It highlighted our ability as employers to give feedback is limiting our ability to provide the crucial feedback required to fuel the desire for learning and growth in our employees.

Tied into all the above elements is the requirement for strong leadership from our farm owners and managers. Rather than in the traditional sense of leading from the front, I witnessed the importance of a shared and supportive style where all members of a team exhibit greater awareness and are able to help each other solve their own problems, handle conflict and monitor performance.  

I believe that recognizing the importance of the soft skills in our farm businesses and that learning, teaching and practicing them is crucial in creating those workplaces that are engaging and motivating. This is essential if we as agricultural businesses wish to be able to attract, retain and train people. I believe that small and subtle shifts in each of the areas and strengthening of the connections add like drops to a bucket, to create environments that provide fulfilling work experience for those involved and ultimately happy, healthy and strong communities. This stuff is hard, takes courage to do differently, lead differently and have those courageous conversations.

 Read the full report here:
 Future farm workplaces. -Hamish Murray, 2019