Hamish Murray: Building stronger on-farm teams by getting out of the way.

Hamish Murray podcast - Building stronger on-farm teams

From Bluff Station to Cambridge University and back.​

This transcript of the podcast was edited for clarity.

Bryan Gibson – Editor of Farmer’s Weekly. 
I’m Bryan Gibson, editor of the Farmer’s Weekly. And this morning I’m talking to Hamish Murray. How’s it going? 

Hamish Murray – 2019 Nuffield Scholar, Bluff Station, Marlborough. 
Good. Thanks, Bryan. And you?

BG: You’re in Marlborough, is that right? 

HM: We are an hour south of Blenheim, 45 minutes north of Kaikoura on the east coast, inland at Kekerengu. 

We’re a high-country sheep and beef farm that stretches into the Clarence Valley. The Homestead is about five minutes from the coast and goes all the way into the base of Tapuae-o-Uenuku. It’s about 35 km’s to the back boundary. We run Merino sheep, Hereford Angus cattle, and we have about 800 beehives. 

BG: How have things been going this year for you? 

HM: We’ve had a great season with 300mm of rain through late January, early February. It’s meant our autumn has been incredible, and stock are in good condition. We’re through the bulk of our work now. It’s starting to quiet down for the next five weeks before we look at shearing ewes at the start of August. 

BG: I noticed from your bio you went to Cambridge University? 

HM:  Yeah. I suppose like many farmers at one point, you were told to get out and go and do something other than agriculture. And so, I spent a lot of my former years trying to give myself an opportunity to do anything other than be a farmer.  

I was sitting on a train on the way to a job interview in London, after graduating from Cambridge. It was then that I realised I really wanted to be back in New Zealand chasing stock around and being part of the farming community. I wanted to give our children the opportunity to grow up with the same experiences as we had. 

BG: How was that time in the UK at university for you? Must have been quite eye opening. 

HM: I was fortunate to get the opportunity to study there. I played a good level of sport playing in the varsity match on a couple of occasions while studying economics.

It was an incredible experience. It pushed me mentally as far as I could have been pushed. The expectation to perform and to be part of that was a great challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look back on it fondly. 

Hamish Murray at Bluff high country station

Pushing your limits and personal growth.

BG: And in 2019 you went through the Nuffield Scholarship Programme. 

HM: Again, fortunate to be given the opportunity to do some travel. I felt that when I was in the UK, I was on a student budget. So, I didn’t really get the opportunity to do the travel that I would’ve liked while I was there.

The Nuffield Farming Scholarship gave me the opportunity to look at agriculture in different parts of the world with a whole lot of like-minded people.  

My topic was to look at teams and what made certain businesses successful or workplaces more enjoyable and engaging for staff. 

I had a real challenge about five years after coming home from overseas. We had a significant drought here in Marlborough and North Canterbury, and it pushed me to an emotional breaking point. I’d played top level sport so I knew, physically, how far I could push myself.  

Studying at Cambridge I’d reached that mental breaking point also. My limits had been challenged there. But I’d never had an emotional breaking point like this drought caused. I’m not unique in that. Everybody has these challenges. At that time, I exhausted myself trying to keep our team, our staff, and our family going. 

That was a significant point for me. I became focused on how to better lead myself first. That grew over the next couple of years as we recovered and then grew into how to better lead our teams.   

Hamish Murray at Bluff station

Nuffield study and building better teams.

My focus at the time of the Nuffield was around productive, efficient, and effective teams. What makes some places more engaging and motivating for staff to work in.

Then with Nuffield I was lucky enough to look at businesses all around the world that were held up on those pillars. What made them different, what made them tick, and what might that mean for the future of work in New Zealand – in the ag space, especially. 
BG: So can you talk a little bit about who you looked at and what some of the keys to building a successful team might be? 
HM: With my Nuffield travel I got to see businesses in the Netherlands healthcare industry that had developed these self-managing teams called Buurtzorg. I spent time in Silicon Valley too, looking at a lot of tech companies.  

Everywhere I went, I was looking at teams and what made them successful. And then coming home, I spent time with the Crusaders looking at what made them different. How have they been able to win multiple championships, seemingly pulling from the same talent pool as the rest of New Zealand.  

BG: And were there some takeaways from that can be applied to the agriculture situation? What sort of changes did you end up making, say, in your own business to overcome the sort of challenges you had with the drought?  

Building self-awareness and self-aware teams.

HM: A lot of what I learned was building on those challenges we had been working through. Self-awareness was a huge one. Building self-awareness together as a team was significant for all these businesses. They found their own individual ways to work together on the soft skills that make teams work well together.  

People don’t leave a job necessarily because they don’t like it. They leave the job because they don’t like the boss or their workmates.  

 “So much of what we focus on is the technical stuff in doing the job, rather than working on working together.” 

How do we best understand the individual attributes that people bring to a team? Little things as simple as how do people like to learn? How do they like to communicate? For example, what do I look like on a good day? What do I look like on a bad day? And how to come up with strategies as a team to overcome those things. 
BG: You mentioned the Crusaders and Scott Robertson’s approach to coaching and team culture. He seems to find out, as you say, the best way to do knowledge transfer, depending on that person’s mental makeup. And that’s part of the success, isn’t it? 

HM:  Absolutely. One example for me was the way every business or every super rugby franchise has their values in big print somewhere in their changing room so that everyone sees them. It’s kind of the way that people do it.

The real gold comes from when you spend time to work out with people what those values look, sound, and feel like.  

Until you dig deeper with your individuals. As the people in your team change, how does that look, sound, and feel for those particular people at that time? That makes these things come alive and become more of an ingrained part of your culture. 

BG: It seems that the world we live in now seems to be more challenging for both individuals and workplaces. So, this kind of approach and strategy, if you are running a team, is only going to become more important.

The Nuffield Scholarship and creating the space to grow.

HM: Wellbeing is important but being able to bring your whole self to work is even more so. As you get away from the hierarchy of things, people want to be able to turn up. They don’t want to be a different person at work than at home.  

To truly understand people, we’ve got to listen and ask better questions, and get to the bottom of truly understanding them. Then we can build a safety network of people around them, allowing them to flourish in our workplaces. 

BG: So you obviously enjoyed the experience of going through the Nuffield Programme? 

HM: I couldn’t recommend it enough. One of the greatest challenges for me, and one of the biggest learnings, was being able to set our business up with our team to create the opportunity for staff to step into that space. Then I could be away for nearly five months.

They really grew into that opportunity, by me getting out of their way, yet still giving them enough support.  

I think that’s been one of the greatest growth opportunities for me – is create the space for our team to step into. They’ve thrived in that opportunity. 

We haven’t gone back to where we were before. That has been significant and enjoyable for me. And when I look back on the opportunity, the travel, the study, and the chance to look around and gain many ideas from many businesses around the world – it was fantastic.  

“When I think back on what the greatest significance has been, it would be the growth in our team and in our business, simply because of being able to get my own ego out of the way.” 

BG:  Among all of what we’ve been speaking about, there was the earthquake down your way, too. That must have been a massive challenge. 

HM: It was, yes. We had four of six houses rebuilt. I was away, so my wife and three kids were living in a cottage while our house was being rebuilt. Jess managed the rebuild, looked after three kids who were just five, three, and one – while I was traveling around the world with Nuffield.

Yes, there were lots of challenges in that – but lots of growth for all of us too. 

BG: Teamwork with a capital ‘T’ there. Good grief. 

HM: Yeah. Very lucky, very grateful. And it’s nice to be able to repay some of the faith that people have put in me. 

BG: Thanks for listening to Ideas That Grow, a Rural Leaders podcast. This podcast was presented by Farmers Weekly.

For more information on Rural Leaders, the Nuffield New Zealand Farming Scholarships, please visit ruralleaders.co.nz/nuffield.

Connect with Hamish on LinkedIn.

Our programmes work in partnership with some of New Zealand’s leading agribusiness organisations – click here for more.​