Good Meetings Don't Just Happen
Good meetings are a result of careful thought and consideration. Taking care of all the components that make meetings successful is primarily the responsibility of your team coordinator. They will involve you in setting the meetings, establishing the agendas and gathering of information for the team to chart progress.
They will also keep you informed as they follow-up on issues that come about and need to be tended to between team meetings. The following sections of this Web site are designed to assist both of you as you go through this process.
Ground Rules for a Successful Meeting
- All ideas should be discussed freely and openly.
- Everyone needs to respect the ideas of their fellow professionals and those of the farm family for the betterment of whole farm operation.
- Only one person speaks at a time and everyone has a turn to speak.
- The producer has final say—it's his/her farm.
- The dairy farm family takes "ownership" of the final priorities and the goals agreed upon.
- Once an owner makes a decision, he shares the decision with the team so the team stays effective.
- Once the owner decides to put aside a recommendation, the team should respect this decision and move on to other issues.
- Advisory team members need to put the dairy farm family's interests above self-interests.
- All discussions and information are confidential and will not be shared outside the team meeting.
Some details you will want to consider when setting your meetings are the location, time and the frequency of meetings.
In real estate they say location is everything. Location can make a big difference in the success and productivity of a meeting as well. When deciding where to hold the meeting, consider the following:
- Team Member's Comfort (chairs, table access, lighting, heat, ventilation, cleanliness)
- Convenience for the Team Members
- Freedom from Interruptions (workers, family members, telephones)
- Access to Production and Financial Data
- Access to Computers, Flip Charts, White Board for recording ideas
Many places, including around your kitchen table, may be acceptable. You may also want to consider reserving a small, private dining room in a local restaurant, asking your lender (especially if they're on the team) if you might use a small boardroom at the bank, or using some other off-farm site.
As you recruit your team members, you will want to ask them their preference regarding meeting time. Then, try to select the time that is convenient to a majority of the team members. Revisit this at each meeting as you schedule the next meeting since people's time commitments often change.
Your team will probably meet more frequently as you are getting established. Meetings should be scheduled as often as is needed to monitor the progress being made toward farm goals. As you set the next meeting, consider the time that will be needed for team members to complete assigned tasks and schedule accordingly.
Setting the Agenda
Your meeting agenda will vary based on the business the group needs to address. However some agenda components will be constant.
Always introduce new team members/visitors/guests at the start of the meeting. You will want to allow the new person and team members the opportunity to go around the table and give names and reasons for involvement on the team. Not only does this meet the rules of common courtesy, but it also allows all team members to make a positive contribution to the meeting early and share any hidden interests they may have regarding their work on the team. Never assume a new member knows the rest of the group.
Before business begins, let the team review the ground rules as a reminder of the team expectations. Ask members if rules need to be added/edited or deleted at this time.
Review the general status of the farm. Highlight changes that have occurred since the previous meeting.
Review and monitor data for each action plan. A spreadsheet works well for organizing and presenting this information. It makes tracking of progress quick and easy by team members. List items that were "to be continued" from the last meeting and the team member who was responsible for completing the task. Let team members report on progress toward previously established goals.
What new challenge is the farm facing? Identify those that need to be addressed by the team and list these on the agenda under this category. For each challenge, you will want to share background information with the team. How long has the challenge existed? What components of the farm business is the challenge affecting? What efforts have been taken in the past to overcome this particular challenge? Break down the challenge into specific components if there are smaller issues creating the greater challenge.
Keep asking "why" until the problem is well defined-if a person is responsible, make sure they are named rather than blaming the problems on external factors such as weather, the economy, someone off the farm. If more information is needed, identify exactly what is needed and determine who will collect the information before the next meeting. Be sure the problem you've listed is clearly identified and meets the criteria for team involvement.
Let the team brainstorm solutions to the individual issues. Develop a plan to resolve the problem. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Develop an action plan. Progress on the plan will be reported at future meetings. Now that you've created the agenda, look at it again. What type of decision or action (not what specific decision or action) do you expect from the team for each of the agenda items listed? Remember, you have a limited amount of time for the meeting so you'll want to have your thoughts well organized.
Send the agenda to the team members at least one week before the meeting. This will give them time to organize their thoughts and serve as a reminder for items for which they are responsible.
Ground rules are important to your team. They indicate what is acceptable behavior by the team members and provide the coordinator with a means to keep the team focused and on-track. Effective ground rules reduce negative conflict within the team.
The team members should adopt ground rules at the initial team meeting and should be given the opportunity to alter them as needed throughout the life of the team. However, the rules should be altered only at a designated time in the meeting and not during a heated discussion or disagreement.
Keeping your advisory team focused requires good communication between you, your coordinator, and your team members. The success of your team relies on your ability and willingness to share pertinent information and be open to discussions on relevant issues. There are three important stages of communication in the team process: before the meeting, during the meeting and after the meeting. The Team Coordinator Timeline will assist you in completing your duties before and after the meeting. Here are some things to consider during the meeting.
During the meeting fulfill your role by efficiently answering questions and making timely decisions. For some teams writing key points or actions on a flip chart or white board can help everyone stay focused. You should also appoint a timekeeper who can call out the time if a discussion is getting too lengthy. It's important not to cut off a good discussion where progress is being made, but be aware that other items on the agenda may have to be tabled until the next meeting.
At the conclusion of the meeting, make sure everyone understands their assignments. The list of action items can be photocopied and shared immediately, or the designated note taker can compile the notes and get them to all team members within a week. Notes are helpful if someone has missed the meeting and also become a record of the team's progress over time. By reviewing accomplishments from each session a team member can determine the importance of their work and evaluate the time spent doing teamwork in comparison to other professional activities.
Often we think of conflict as something bad--a negative human situation. However, conflict can be good and bad--constructive and destructive. Your team's objective should be to maximize use of constructive conflict and avoid the occurrence of destructive conflict in resolving team issues. Let's be sure we have a clearer understanding of these two kinds of conflict.
Constructive (Good) Conflict
If everyone on the team agreed on every issue to be addressed at the outset of a team meeting, there would be no need for a team meeting. Teams draw strength from the sharing of many points of view, various skills and perspectives represented and the many different experiences of the team members. Differing opinions are desirable and built into the advisory team process. First, it is important that the team recognize that diversity is their primary source of strength. Once this is accomplished, they can respond in a constructive, team-building manner when ideas are presented that they may not understand or share. They learn to look deeper into the other person's perspective and work with them to shape and mold the best possible solution.
In constructive conflict, team members learn to question or attack ideas, not the people who have them.
Destructive (Bad) Conflict
Destructive conflict attacks people rather than looking critically at the ideas presented. Generally, destructive conflict can be avoided if the team is following established ground rules. All team members, along with the team coordinator, must consciously discourage destructive conflict when it surfaces. The team process needs good and bad ideas to bubble up spontaneously during group brainstorming. Once the ideas are on the table, the team can sort out the better ideas for refinement. There are no bad ideas, just some ideas that never get used. Should negative conflict occur and escalate to an emotional free for all, it is important that the coordinator recognize the situation and call a team break so that the issue can be resolved privately.
Following are examples of responses that result in either constructive or destructive conflicts occurring when a team is brainstorming. Jack comes up with an idea and submits it as a proposal to the group. Fred isn't sure he totally agrees with the idea and responds…
"Jack, I have to question your proposal. Either I don't understand something or we need to think this out more. Let's see how we can make this concept better. What about…?"
In this situation, it is the facts, and not Jack, that are called into question. A response that seeks to clarify or explore the proposal further is an important part of the idea refinement process and can lead to a totally new way of seeing the problem or solution with greater understanding by both conflicting parties. This process is the mother of innovation and is healthy, team-strengthening conflict, which builds trust and builds the team's innovative process. When Jack's idea is improved, he feels like he contributed to the solution and it builds his confidence. Fred helps refine Jack's idea and feels that he has contributed as well. This response builds trust and respect in the team.
"Jack, that is the dumbest idea you have ever had. Have you really thought about this? Surely we can do better than that."
This response appears as a personal attack although that may not be what Fred intended and makes the team members feel uncomfortable. This type of response is destructive to team development and success. If Jack is criticized too often, he will be reluctant to share new ideas and innovative processes. Other members will be less confident and less likely to share ideas as well. Eventually the team discussions will lead to the "tried and true," safe ideas rather than the new, innovative approaches the team really needs.
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