People often ask me how we can be in business as a family and still get along. After all, some families have a hard time getting through a family dinner without a fight.
I jokingly tell them that it’s all thanks to me. If a father and sons are going to work together, they need to have the mother involved as well—to make sure they don’t kill each other!
In fact, I think the answer can be found around my kitchen table. It’s funny how something so basic can be so much more important than it seems. Over the years, that kitchen table has been our lifeline.
Every day at noon, we leave the office and greenhouse behind and head over to the house for lunch. We catch up with what everybody’s doing, chat about the day’s events, and subject one another to good-natured ribbing. Although our lunches occasionally include a bit of yelling, and even a tear or two, you’re much more likely to hear laughter and friendly conversation.
Lunchtime also gives us a chance to settle our differences, because problems aren’t left to simmer day after day. They get worked out right away, and when this happens over a pleasant meal, things rarely get out of hand—even when the family is divided on an issue.
Early in my married life, I learned that if I wanted to raise a difficult topic with Ted, it helped to feed him first. To this day, I don’t talk to him seriously until he has something in his stomach. That rule continues to serve me well with my entire family.
When Bill finished university, he had to make a choice about what he wanted to do: join the family business or pursue something else. Naturally, he brought up the difficult topic at the dinner table. He would happily stay on the farm, he said, but only if we expanded our operation significantly. While Ted agreed in principle, he was anxious that Bill wanted to move too far, too fast. Tempers flared, and Ted wound up stomping out of the kitchen.
Despite the fact that Ted was eager for Bill to stay, he was reluctant to relinquish some of his control over the business. When the family roles change, the adjustment can be traumatic. A few days later, Ted and Bill sorted the situation out over the kitchen table.
The kitchen at lunchtime is also our informal boardroom, the one place where everyone knows it’s okay to express their opinions. They also know they won’t be distracted by customers, phone calls, and the like. The table brings focus to anything that needs debating—or good stories that need sharing.
With the number of strong personalities involved in our business, the work day invariably generates some significant differences of opinion. Just when the discussion threatens to become an out-and-out battle, though, it’s time for lunch. Everyone files into the house and eats as though nothing had happened, at least for a few bites. When the problems of the day finally arise, they somehow seem much easier to sort out. Everyone goes back to work with no grudges and no bad feelings.
We often draw other people into the circle as well. One of our suppliers might make a delivery just before lunchtime, or somebody out of town might be inspecting our trial garden. Dave Grice, a long-time employee and friend, eats with us regularly. When you bring people to your table and feed them good food, you build a bond.
So that’s my secret to ensuring harmony. In any business, and a family business in particular, communication is absolutely crucial. And if good food is involved, so much the better.
-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer