The Importance of Defined Roles
Having the right team members and having each member in the best role for their talents and background is one of the most important factors in determining the success of a team. In this section, we will discuss the roles that are necessary for team function and give tips to assist you in selecting the best person for each of these roles.
The Decision Maker
You, as the producer/farm owner, are the ultimate decision maker on the team. The team provides information to assist you in making decisions, but does not make the decisions for you. You will need to focus on providing input and processing what is said to make decisions. This can be very demanding. Your decision is final and the team must be willing to accept this and move on to other agenda items once a decision is made.
Some teams struggle when progress is not apparent. Owners need to make decisions and announce their decision in a timely manner. A decision not to act on the team's advice may be a good decision and should be shared with the team as well. If a team does not see any action on their advice and is given no explanation, they can become discouraged.
The recorder/communicator will take notes on team progress, team decisions, and assignments for future meetings. The important points can be listed on a blackboard or flipchart to help keep people focused and avoid wasting time. At the close of the team meeting, the recorder will pass the minutes to the coordinator who will then distribute copies of the minutes to each team member. Sometimes the coordinator is also the recorder/communicator, but it is good to share the responsibilities equally across the team.
Agenda and minutes example and template
It is hard to facilitate the team meeting, manage the agenda, and keep track of time, all at once. Having another person on the team share the time-keeping role helps. "Look friends, we are 40 minutes into this meeting and have no action plan."
Meetings are short and must stay on track. The timekeeper is responsible for keeping the meeting on time by watching the time remaining and how many items are left on the agenda. The timekeeper will want to work with the coordinator/meeting facilitator when the team seems to get stuck on a particular topic.
The Coordinator/Meeting Facilitator
As you form your Dairy Advisory Team, one of the first team member selections you will want to make as mentioned in step 2 of Starting a Team, is the team coordinator. Generally, off-farm coordinators are the most successful. You may select one of your current farm advisers. However, it is most important that you select someone highly skilled in team functions and meeting facilitation. Some situations may benefit from a trained coordinator that has no farm expertise but is present simply to manage the team process effectively. Your team coordinator will also serve as facilitator for your team meetings.
Characteristics of a Good Coordinator
The following are characteristics of a good coordinator:
- A great problem solver - Problem solving is the heart of the team's purpose. It is helpful if the team coordinator is competent in the more formalized process of problem solving.
- Enthusiastic - Enthusiasm is infectious and spreads through the team, increasing the energy level and creativity.
- Has a "can do" attitude.
- Has excellent organizational skills.
- Is a good communicator - Must be able to understand what others are saying by actively listening in addition to being able to express themselves well.
- Is an active learner.
- Manages a meeting well.
- Works well with people.
Good coordinators involve all team members and make them active contributors. Everyone on the team must have a role to stay involved in the process. Without a role, a member becomes unimportant and will pull away from the process.
Coordinators aid communication between team members through active listening and asking appropriate questions to ensure that everyone understands what is being said.
They manage the team process and help everyone bring forth their best thinking. They carry out the problem-solving process, summarize what has transpired, and lead the team to successful action plans.
In short, they keep the meeting moving.
Duties Outside the Meeting
To make the most of people's time and keep the team process focused, the coordinator should complete several duties outside team meetings.
Work with the owner to set an agenda for a 60-minute meeting. What does not get accomplished is added to the next meeting agenda or can be assigned to a subteam to resolve independent of the team.
Set a start time and finish time and insist that team members honor them.
Verbally set the environment for a productive meeting. Outline the agenda and what needs to happen by the end of the meeting. Assign responsibilities so the workload is shared and understood and everyone is involved.
Make a list of ground rules and post them where everyone can see them. Work with the team to make new ones as needed, i.e. one person speaks at a time, discussions are confidential and not shared with others outside the team, etc. Present these to the team at their first meeting and ask them for additions or corrections to make ground rules they will abide by.
Track critical data related to achieving goals along with other key indicators to show the team how well the action plan is meeting farm needs. The Herd Report may be useful in this regard. Also, stay informed on other important systems on the farm that do not need attention while the current problems are being addressed to assure that other systems are working properly. For example: Number of cows milking, daily production per cow, dry matter intake, days to first breeding, feed on hand, etc.
Communications are needed between meetings for most effective team meetings. Don't let team members find surprises on the agenda. Find time to gather your thoughts, find related information, contact someone who is experienced in the new problem, run specialized tests, have the results for team members, etc. between meetings. There will be times when the team meeting needs to be changed or cancelled. Reminders of what happened at the previous meetings and what is expected at the next meeting are also helpful. Communications at the right time with the right people is a trait of successful teams. We've included a timeline to help you track your progress.
Having the right goals and spoken plans are not enough. Action plans can be simple but should be written down and shared. Team members need to be given tasks to do, the workload needs to be shared, and deadlines set so timely progress is made (See sample team assignment sheet).
Look for new ways to make the team more successful. There are many sources of material about team function in the trade press, books, business conferences, and workshops (Resources). Find nuggets of wisdom from these sources and share them with team members.
Meeting Facilitation Tips
- Analyze the discussion, ask probing questions: Often the first ideas uncovered in the problem-solving process are canned and superficial. By digging deeper into a problem and asking repeatedly, "Why? Why? Why?" the team reaches a more meaningful level. At times there will be issues that are not being addressed because they are overlooked or are too painful to discuss. A skillful coordinator will bring these to the surface.
- Get all the members involved in the discussion: In a new situation we all take a wait-and-see attitude. When we have confidence, respect, and trust in those around us, we think and speak more openly. This is a team dynamic that the skillful coordinator can manage. Humor or an easily solved problem can break the ice and start the team off right. Some people are more vocal and like to speak. However, someone that is more introverted and analytical may have part or all of the solution to the current discussion but may shy away from offering their thoughts. A simple question such as, "Jack, you look like you have given this a lot of thought, would you mind sharing your ideas?" will bring forth something that the team can build on.
- Keep the discussion focused: What can the coordinator do when the team's attention shifts and the relevance of thoughts being added to the discussion is unclear? A quick summary of how the ideas fit with the original goal will bring the discussion back on course or bring things to closure. Some people enjoy talking and contribute much but may not hear what has been said. Other times the team does not fully respect a team member's ideas when he speaks. This is the time for the coordinator to help people listen. A comment such as, "Tom, let me restate what you said and tell me if I understood you correctly." The next time this is needed, you could ask the talker to write on the flipchart the essence of what Tom had said. Listening is a skill that we all can improve.
- Enforce ground rules: A group needs boundaries and limits. Deciding on ground rules is easy for a team once the purpose and need for them is established. Remembering to use them and enforce them when appropriate takes a skilled coordinator. It is easy to say, "Be quiet and let others have a turn speaking" but done inappropriately it can kill the creative force of the team and stifle cooperation. By writing ground rules, the team can agree on limits and use these when the team strays from the course. For example, "Remember, we agreed to let everyone speak and it is now Mary's turn."
For more information about ground rules, see Team Meetings.