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How to build on your dairy’s strengths at team meetings

Kristy Pagel Published on 10 June 2013

Many dairies are making strides in becoming better and more productive – and are being helped by highly effective team meetings. Other dairies, in comparison, struggle.

Regular team meetings can be a critical component of structuring your dairy for success. They provide organized objectives (a focus) and an action plan (direction) that is agreed upon by each team member as a way to move the business forward (accountability).

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Each team meeting has two overriding purposes: one tactical, the other strategic. The tactical focuses on how to solve the day-to-day, immediate operating challenges.

For example, the cows in pen four were out of feed four days this week, Jose is late for work for the third time in two weeks or cow pushers never open the gates for the feeder. The question is: Are they being dealt with? If not, why not? How can the team help in solving the problem?

The strategic is longer-range and focuses on goal setting for larger purposes. For example, risk management such as purchasing and milk marketing strategies.

Other strategic focuses include expansion planning, succession planning, employee training and development – e.g., how to help an employee develop stronger management skills, budget and financial and even annual heat abatement challenges (how to minimize the effect of seasonal heat stress experienced year after year).

The team
Who should participate in team meetings? Teams should consist of the dairy’s owner, key managers and its key advisers and influencers.

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The team might include the nutritionist, veterinarian, industry representatives, someone with milk quality responsibilities, a banker (optional) and a qualified facilitator. Each and every person on the team should be someone who will actively engage in discussion.

Each team member should be concerned with the dairy business’ success, carry a commitment to the teams’ goals – as set by the owner – be willing and able to actively listen, be eager to work with other team members, be ready to offer challenging ideas when appropriate and accept responsibility for launching the dairy further toward future success.

Structure
To structure the meetings, begin by laying the groundwork. Define the roles of the facilitator, note taker, timekeeper and challengers. In preparation for the meeting, share the agenda and the dairy’s reports for advisory review.

This allows for each team member to come prepared. Establish a time for the meeting to start and end – and stick to them. In the notes, capture the action items: who will do what by when. This establishes the team’s working plan and is critical to progressing forward.

Each team member shoulders certain responsibilities. Each will be held accountable for the action items they have been assigned. In meeting notes, highlight action items in yellow for the team’s easy reference.

Should any items remain incomplete at the next meeting, highlight them in red to draw more attention to them by the person responsible and the team.

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Going into meetings, the team should understand the ground rules. Each and every meeting is 100 percent confidential. No exceptions.

Key performance indicators should be reviewed at each meeting. This allows the team to monitor progress in attaining goals.

A monthly calendar should be kept that captures major events taking place on the dairy for the team’s awareness and discussion. And, of course, everyone should be able to have some fun.

Frequency
The frequency of team meetings can and does vary. Frequency typically is tailored to the needs of the business. Teams would meet more frequently, for example, during an expansion, major crisis or when an issue needs solving.

Communications, however, certainly are not limited to formal meetings. Team members often have routine discussions between meetings. These may tend to be more tactical (day-to-day matters) than strategic (bigger-picture matters).

During meetings
Actively encourage open discussion during meetings. Each team member should feel comfortable and want to share their opinions and ideas.

All team members should contribute to the conversation at each meeting and be actively listening when others talk. Sometimes the facilitator will work with team members to maintain focus on the issue at hand and avoid getting pulled off onto tangents.

Avoid
To keep team meetings on track and to get the most out of each meeting, honor the seven don’ts:

• Don’t allow one person to completely control the meeting. This stifles conversations.

• Don’t allow side chatter, texting or open computers. No distractions.

• Don’t use a facilitator who tends to lose focus.

• Don’t just talk about challenges and “stuff.” Develop a plan and assign action items to specific individuals.

• Don’t include individuals who just take up space. You want active participants.

• Don’t accept tardiness.

• Don’t allow the meeting to go on and on and on. Set parameters.

Champagne moments
Celebrate success. Periodically, recognize the progress the team is making or has made. Do a review of where you began and how far you have come. When significant goals are achieved, celebrate and then set new goals.

Hold the celebration at a setting with mass appeal, possibly a cookout, BBQ, pizza party or steak dinner. Here, visually and verbally recognize success and have the dairy owner or team leader extend a heartfelt “we did it” and “thank you.” Soon it will be time to tackle the next challenge. PD

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Kristy Pagel
Regional Sales Manager
Diamond V

Active listening

During team meetings, team members might want to assume others are actively listening. This may or may not be true. Active listening can take some practice.

It means focusing on truly hearing what the other person is saying, promotes better understanding and encourages individuals to fully explain themselves. Active listeners listen as they would like others to listen to them. They:

1. Seek to understand before they seek to be understood – listen to the words and for the complete message

2. Are non-judgmental

3. Give their undivided attention – no distractions – this gives the speaker cues that they are tracking with them, possibly a nod or “uh huh”

4. Use silence effectively

5. Give feedback – paraphrase back what has been said for confirmation and clarification, regardless of whether or not they agree

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