employees chatting
June 16, 2016

Team-Building Key to Success

 |  By: Wyatt Bechtel

It’s nearly the start of another football season. Players across the country will gather for two-a-days. Blood, sweat and tears will be shed. Bonds will be built as individuals become teammates. Goals will be set—to beat a rival, win the conference, become champions. For a dairy, there isn’t a state championship trophy to hoist in triumph at the end of the long season. Still, goals should be established to measure success, says Jorge Estrada, an organizational development consultant and executive coach. A common goal for a dairy might be to produce a nutritious product while maintaining profitability.

But all too often, milkers, cow-pushers and other dairy workers aren’t clear on what’s expected of them to successfully reach that goal—or why they should even try. The opportunity for dairies is to shift the conversation from getting so many cows through the parlor per shift, toward performance management. In other words, the goal is to get those cows through the parlor calmly with proper milking procedures and good milk letdown. “Performance management is an ongoing process,” Estrada says. “It’s happening all the time.”

It starts the first time you interview a prospective employee and continues through onboarding and beyond. “These are all opportunities to have quick conversations on what (your operation is) about,” Estrada adds. “You start a relationship and develop trust and respect for one another.” After making a hire, it’s up to managers and supervisors to continue the conversation with their employees as appropriate throughout the year. These talks should focus around meeting the employee’s individual goals and the company’s overall objectives, Estrada says.

The final two elements for performance management are accountability and recognition. Workers must be recognized for the effort they put into being successful, Estrada says. It might be as simple as saying “thank you” for a hard day’s work or for staying late to fi nish a job. Recognition is critical in maintaining relationships and achieving long-term goals, Estrada says. Farming skills don’t always translate to team building.

Implementing goals shouldn’t be hard, but in agriculture, there seems to be fundamental differences that get in the way, says Barbara Dartt, a former veterinarian who now works as a family business consultant. “Avoidance is a very common issue that I see,” Dartt says. It might be avoiding a conversation with an employee to point out something he or she is doing incorrectly. Often, managers don’t want conflict, or to have to defend what they’re asking of their workers. “In agriculture, we’ve rewarded risk taking, decisiveness, attention to detail and working at a fast pace. If you think about that suite of skills, it has really been rewarded in the commercialization of agriculture, particularly in the U.S.,” Dartt says. The only drawback is those skills don’t mesh well when trying to build a team, she says. “We need to think about leadership and modeling our behavior to nurture individuals and teams. It is not about moving pieces on a chessboard; it doesn’t work that way with people,” Dartt says.

All teams need captains. And those leaders need to relate to their teammates. That can be especially difficult if leaders and team members come from different backgrounds and cultures. Those differences, however, must be recognized, acknowledged and bridged for the team to be successful and win every day.