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Teamwork in your parlor

Tom Fuhrmann DVM Published on 19 November 2009
Fostering teamwork on your dairy is critically important to maximize milking parlor performance. More than half the workers on most dairies are milkers. Milkers work in shifts or teams. This is the one area of dairy operations that is dependent upon teamwork to maximize productivity and profitability.

I’ve addressed the role your herdsman, parlor manager, milker supervisor or head milker need to play to create this teamwork in an article I wrote for them in El Lechero. So what is your role to foster teamwork on your dairy?

Find them
First, you must identify the “diamond in the rough” that is a potential leader of your Hispanic milkers. You can’t have a team without a leader. Leaders are bosses that know work, train their workers and monitor work and results. The better the leader, the better are the results. A bilingual Hispanic leader can be the bridge across the gap between your English-speaking business philosophy and the Spanish-speaking workers upon whom you trust to milk your cows 24/7.

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Look for the milker that not only speaks some English, but one who also is the most dependable, the one to whom the other milkers rally around. Determine who is the milker that appears most interested in his work, who asks questions, who wants to do right all the time and who appears to get along with everyone best. He/she is your potential team leader.

Position them
Now ask your potential leader if he/she wants to help you help your other workers. Unlike us “Gringos” who usually accept more responsibility to make more money, many Hispanics don’t think the same way. Many Hispanics are more socialistic; that is, they want everything and everyone to be equal. For them, competition and results are often not rewarded with more money or more stature. In fact, leaders or financially successful persons are often seen as corrupt and not respected.

Position your potential leader as someone whom you respect and want to depend upon to help you make your workers and their fellow countrymen more successful and continue to work well on your dairy. Explain to him/her why you think he/she will be respected by the rest of the workers and how he/she can earn more for doing the right thing for the workers, for him and for you. In other words, position your potential leader for success.

The next step to foster teamwork is to demonstrate your faith in the team leader as the boss of the rest of the team. This can be a formal announcement to the rest of your milkers, or it can be done by the manner in which you treat your new leader. Talk to your team leader when the other milkers are present; demonstrate your bias toward him/her. Ask the milkers to communicate to you through the one person you’ve determined to be their representative. Watch how other milkers respond and react to the leader. Coach and offer tips to your parlor supervisor or head milker when appropriate.

Your world and your expectations are very different from the world your potential leader experienced before you asked him/her to step to a different level. You need to coach and grow these new leaders. Just follow your instincts as the dairy owner and leader you are, but do it! Most Hispanics won’t just “get it” without your help and direction.

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Teach them technical points
Leaders are bosses that need to know their work. So the next step is to arm your new boss with the technical knowledge to understand milking routine and milk quality. Generally bosses need to know both the “what” and the “why”, while followers need to know mostly the “what.” You and your off-farm consultants will help the new milker boss learn the “what and why” through formal and informal training. Leaders possess a level of intelligence and experience to learn quickly. But learning presupposes that teachers are available to help them learn. Supply the teaching and the curriculum.

Follow up and support them
After you’ve identified, appointed, and trained your parlor leaders, follow up and check in on them regularly. They need to know that you know they are doing things right to gain confidence as a leader. They also need to know that you are there to help them when they need it. Hispanic leaders are in a foreign, Gringo world when asked to lead a group of fellow workers who are expected to produce results. These Hispanic leaders will eventually “get it” with your support and training. Just don’t expect them to “get it” by themselves or without your time and interest investment in them. Meet with them formally or informally once-monthly to tell them how they and their team are doing. Your comments about milk quality results and what they are accomplishing mean more to them than the extra money they earn by being the head milker or parlor supervisor!

Developing teamwork among the milkers on your dairy starts with you even before you identify your herdsman, parlor manager, milking supervisor or head milker. It requires your effort and commitment. It requires that you take an active role to grow prospective leaders. It requires “management energy” and only YOU can provide and deliver that. PD

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