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Leading dairy teams: Tools to be a great facilitator

Rachel Coyne for Progressive Dairy Published on 11 March 2020

Today’s dairy farm cannot be run by one person. To be successful in any industry, teams must be established to keep operations running smoothly. However, teams are a major investment.

Optimizing that investment takes a strong facilitator to keep the complex relationships between people and business in check. Penn State Extension’s Lisa Holden recently hosted a webinar titled, “Facilitating Dairy Teams: Tips, Tricks and To-Dos” and outlined what it takes to be an effective facilitator.

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What is a facilitator?

A facilitator is someone who contributes to a process so groups of people who interact are able to function and make high-quality decisions. A facilitator enables others to succeed and achieve their goals. As the facilitator, there are times to be quiet and times to speak up. Others may ask the facilitator to remove the hat of the facilitator and provide input to keep the process moving along smoothly.

Who should be a facilitator?

A facilitator should be someone trusted by the group who can maintain a good relationship with members. Facilitators should be strong communicators, supporters of the team as a whole and be able to listen and listen well. While some team members may work better as individuals, a facilitator should know when to include those individuals and encourage them to work with the team. Certain team members may be timid; facilitators need to be able to pick those individuals out and encourage them to speak up. A facilitator must be organized or be able to recognize roles they may need to delegate to others.

On any team, ground rules are necessary, and the facilitator is in charge of establishing those rules. A facilitator can move from quiet, polite conversations to the establishment stages of the decision-making process, while including everyone in the process. Everyone needs to have a voice on a team, and the facilitator must encourage everyone to find their voice. The process of problem-solving must be well understood by a facilitator to create results.

Duties during meetings

Meetings are time for discussion that leads to results. The team facilitator must focus on the process, team members and profitability. Serving as the facilitator means being the person to ask important, probing questions that may cause conflict and bring up the issues at hand. Facilitators must foster the atmosphere, confidentiality and trust among the group and inclusion of team members. Everyone on a team needs to be respected, and there is no room for negative thoughts or words meant to bring others down.

Facilitators can divide duties and responsibilities. People leaving the team meeting should know their action items and responsibilities. Agendas need to be monitored, team members must be held accountable, and successes must be celebrated by the facilitators.

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Controlling the agenda

An effective agenda, properly created and followed, is a key aspect of running an effective meeting. Agendas fail because there are surprises waiting for team members. Surprises can cause distractions, and there is no time for distractions during productive meetings. The agenda needs to be circulated ahead of time to avoid these surprises. Team members will have the right tools to prepare for a conversation and will better know what to expect from the meeting. As a rule of thumb, agendas should be shared at least a week or 10 days ahead of time in order for team members to add their items and should be re-shared a few days prior to the meeting for a preview.

Agendas do not need too many items. Prioritize and place emphasis on agenda items that need the most attention. In addition, monitor the time needed to discuss each agenda item. Shuffle items around to find a balance among importance, short items and items that will lead to the most discussion. A brief agenda is OK, but it should not be too vague. Team members need the ability to understand the agenda and the items listed.

At the end of an agenda or meeting, there should be time to discuss goals of the team. Do not only focus on the here-and-now items such as nutrition, reproduction and milk production, but allow some time to look ahead to the future. If there is a need for expansion in the future, but never any time to discuss, the expansion may never happen. There is nothing wrong with minimizing items on an agenda to allow time to look ahead.

End the meeting by making sure each member of the team knows their responsibility, whether that be through shared pictures, notes sent out or personal notes on agendas. Team members will be given an action task, and each member must know the who, what and when of said task.

CHASE distractions

Holden suggests using the acronym CHASE as a reminder to minimize team distractions:

  • Choose your chatter time. Allow for social time at a meeting, then move on to the tasks at hand.

  • Have a balance/set time. Balance the time of the meeting with the tasks that need to be accomplished and the personalities of those attending and contributing to the process.

  • Anticipate detours. When thinking about the team and personalities, know which agenda items will cause members to get sidetracked and how to set aside time for critical conversations.

  • Stop sidebars. If possible, gently remind team members that time is important and side conversations are not constructive.

  • Engage everyone. Everyone should have a chance to contribute. If conversations are dragging on, say something like, “We need to move on, any last comments on the topic?” or call on someone who can provide a quick summary.

Find the right pace

Teams need to keep up a pace to come to conclusions. If a team is stuck, facilitators keep the team moving forward. A sense of urgency for agenda items can serve as an incentive for team members to keep a solid pace. Time wasters on the agenda can also distract from an effective pace. Items on the agenda that only serve as review or fillers may not be necessary. Rather than review at every meeting, implement bimonthly or quarterly reviews. Remove items that do not need to be on the agenda and redirect the team to what is important.

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In issues where the pace of meetings is suffering, create an abbreviated agenda and make progress on three things that need to get done before moving on. This “hot list” or priority list of three items can create that sense of urgency in team members. Separate the can tasks from the can’t tasks to alleviate failure. After three chances of an agenda item not being completed, remove the item from the list, reassign the item or create a consequence for the team member. If necessary, make a big, sweeping change. Think about the strategies that will work for the team and control the pace of meetings through that change.

Holden ended the webinar with a few key takeaways to being an effective facilitator:

1. “Being a facilitator is about leading a problem-solving process that uses people’s time more efficiently and arrives at the best solutions.”

2. "Control the agenda; minimize distractions.”

3. “Establish an appropriate pace for the team. Adjust, focus and refocus as needed. Use a ‘hot list’ or priority list when necessary.”

A facilitator’s role is to make the best use of time, money and effort invested in a team, as facilitation may be the key to the success or failure of teams. Sometimes it can be difficult to be a facilitator, but it has tremendous reward when the problem-solving process is all said and done.  end mark

Rachel Coyne is a freelance writer and a student at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

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