Is the team approach right for your dairy?

C4-MR-1-Is the team 1by Sally Colby

While the ‘team’ concept might sound like something from a sports league, the term also applies to dairies that want to work together for everyone’s good.

Dairy profit teams have been used effectively on dairies of many sizes. Dairies that have formed teams have found that team approach help everyone who is associated with that farm: the veterinarian, lender, nutritionist, agronomist all work together effectively for better profit.

Dr. Lisa Holden, Penn State educator, says that she’s heard a variety of reasons from those who are reluctant to form dairy teams, such as ‘I don’t want to waste time with meetings’ or ‘I prefer to work one on one — I don’t want to be part of a group.’ Holden says she also hears people say that ‘things are okay just the way they are — we don’t need to change.’

Dairy teams aren’t just for struggling dairies. Teams can be effectively used to improve dairies that are already doing a good job as well as help dairies that are grappling with various issues. There are a lot of of complex issues on today’s dairy farms, and few operators are well-versed in every aspect of operating a successful dairy. Teams offer the benefit of working through issues with others — information comes from those who are experts in their field.

Holden describes some of the driving forces behind the team concept. “Everyone is busy, and that’s part of the reason teams work,” she said. “We all have a limited amount of time, so coming together at one time as one group can actually save time, particularly for the dairy producer who is dealing with a variety of advisors throughout the week or month.”

Teams can help farms deal with conflicting information; such as in the case in which one advisor, perhaps a nutritionist, visits the farm and provides advice on one day, then the crop advisor visits the next day and says something different.

“With a team, everyone is sitting around the same table with the same information and it becomes a lot more clear,” said Holden. “With teams, we don’t have misunderstandings and pieces of missing information.”

An effective team must have shared goals and will work better when everyone understands what those goals are. Teams can identify weak spots and work together to effectively rectify situations. Teams also help those on the farm generate ideas, and also help them to focus. The end goal is ‘what is the best possible solution for this team, for this farm?’

With the team concept, communication is much better — everyone hears the same information without filtering or misconceptions. “We gain efficiency when we look at that 90-minutes together once a month as a team as opposed to many different minutes or days apart with disjointed information,” said Holden.

Holden cited the example of a producer who wanted more ideas for improvement. “We generated a list of 27 items,” said Holden, referring to how that producer’s team worked together. “We left that producer to think, gather info and prioritize.” At the next meeting, the team determined the top priorities, developed some solutions and formulated an action plan.

Working with a team also results in benefits such as improved reproduction and improved milk production and quality. In general, teams tend to be proactive rather than reactive. “It’s a fresh set of eyes looking at things, a new perspective, and we have a tendency to catch some of the slippage areas sooner,” said Holden. “We don’t wait until we have a problem, we look at trends. What’s going on, and what do we need to do before that become a problem?”

Teams can directly affect profitability. “Changes made as a result of teams yield real dollars,” said Holden, “whether it’s cost control or being able to invest in items that have the greatest potential.”

What about engaging those who don’t necessarily play an ongoing role on a team? Holden says that those individuals can be brought in as temporary team members when the discussion will include their area of expertise. For example, an agronomist might attend meetings during which forage planning is being considered but won’t be expected to be present at all meetings.

One key criterion for a team is that the farm itself should be willing to listen, adapt and make changes.
“Even if they don’t make changes,” said Holden, “if they’re at least willing to listen to what the team has to say and think about implementing some of those things, that’s fine.”

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