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Focus on strategies for team effectiveness

Tamara Scully for Progressive Dairy Published on 27 November 2019

Whether the dairy is a smaller operation, with the family all pitching in on whatever job needs doing, or a large operation with round-the-clock specialized crews, effective teamwork is crucial to performance.

Just like a successful sports team, effective teamwork – under the right leadership – can prime your dairy for success.

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Richard Stup, Cornell University agricultural workforce specialist, discussed team effectiveness during the 2019 Operations Managers Conference. He highlighted key concepts to avoid dysfunction and build high-performance dairy teams.

Understanding teams

High-functioning teams are well suited to organizing employees in a dairy environment, Stup said. Teams are most effective in situations where there is a common overriding goal, where one person’s ability to do her job is interdependent on another’s ability to do his job, where a variety of skill sets are needed to reach the overall goal, where complex problem solving needs to occur and where the development of interpersonal relationships are important.

The end result of teamwork isn’t dependent on the sum of individual efforts alone. Instead, teams function by bringing individuals together to work on a common goal collectively.

While each individual in a team is personally held accountable for their own work, the team as a whole is responsible for getting the overall job done correctly, Stup explained. It’s not a team effort unless the end results are dependent upon the mutual input and shared responsibility of all members.

“For a team to be effective, every member needs to know what the goal is and how her efforts can help achieve the goal,” Stup said. “When a team member cares not only about his own success, but also about not letting down his teammates, that gives a little extra boost of motivation to perform consistently well.”

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In situations where there are multiple teams – a feeding crew, a milking crew, a calf-care crew – relationships across teams, not only within any given team, need to be nurtured as well. Teams need to know how their role fits into the bigger farm picture.

“Teams need to understand not only their own goals and pathways to success, but they also need to have an understanding of how their work affects other teams on the farm. Cross-training, the practice of having individuals train and work for a period of time in another team, is very helpful,” Stup said. “Team leaders should pay attention to avoiding and stamping out any ‘we-they’ attitudes. Attitudes of blaming the other team rather than problem-solving together should be eliminated by effective team leaders.”

Team development

Making a team takes more than placing people together and giving them a goal. There are stages to team development, Stup said, and each step requires strong leadership. The five stages, according to Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development, are known as: forming, norming, storming, performing and adjourning.

  • In the forming stage, the team gets acquainted and formulates the ground rules. People are formal and act as strangers. Leadership’s role here is to establish team goals and set expectations.

  • The storming stage involves facilitating constructive discussions and allowing the team, still functioning as individuals, to solve problems.

  • In the norming stage, the leadership goal is to solidify patterns that are working, refocus the team to achieve small goals and celebrate any minor wins as the team begins to function collectively.

  • The performing stage is when the team is able to work collectively to achieve real progress toward the goals.

  • The adjourning stage occurs when the team has reached specific goals and involves closure, member recognition and celebration.

Conflict is a part of any team. The challenge is for team leaders to keep the conflict focused on the task and not allow personal conflicts between team members, Stup said.

Focusing on behaviour and results, and not on personal differences, requires listening to all parties respectfully and finding a path to moving forward despite differences. There will be times when 100% agreement won’t occur on a team, but part of the work of the team is to move ahead as a group once a decision is made.

Leadership and team effectiveness

Teamwork makes the dream work. But teams can’t function without leadership. The appropriate leadership oversight keeps teams on track. Someone – the dairy owner or manager – needs to assess the overall functioning of each team, keep it focused on its goals and provide feedback and constructive criticism.

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Effective team leadership and oversight includes regular meetings, ongoing feedback regarding the team’s performance and open lines of communication. Team meetings – where the owner or manager meets with the team regularly – are a vital feature to team effectiveness.

“Teams are all about communicating and coordinating efforts,” Stup said. “Team meetings are the venue for problem-solving and constant improvement. Regular, structured team meetings are the best opportunity for team leaders to refocus everyone on the goal and fine-tune the team’s collective daily and weekly efforts.”

The role of the team leader is to facilitate the meeting and direct the team to resolve any issues. Members should have the opportunity to share ideas or concerns, and there should be time to review the team goals. Training can be done, in small increments, during team meetings too. Each meeting should follow a similar agenda, and meetings should occur on a frequent and regular basis.

Although team meetings address overall collective performance, individual behaviours, such as punctuality, following standard operating procedures, attitude and issues within the employee’s control need to be addressed on a one-to-one basis and not in the team setting, Stup advised. Each individual needs to know how they are doing independent of the team’s performance.

When a team functions effectively, individuals on the team are all working to achieve team goals by doing their own best work and coordinating their efforts with those of other team members. Multiple teams effectively working together unite their own team efforts with that of others to benefit the entire organization.

“People working in highly engaged and organized teams will be much more motivated because they feel a sense of pride and ownership in achieving the goals. It’s really about ownership and motivation,” Stup said. “Dairies work well when every person involved is committed to putting in that little extra effort to make sure cows are cared for in the best possible way every day. High-functioning teams are a great approach to organizing employees on a dairy.”  end mark

Tamara Scully, a freelance writer based in northwestern New Jersey, specializes in agricultural and food system topics.

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