For many dairy producers, the task of holding a team meeting to increase herd reproduction rates may seem like a great idea in theory, but once the actual planning begins, the questions on logistics appear to outweigh the benefits. Questions of concern may be:
• Who do I include in the meeting?
• Where do we hold it?
• What should be on the agenda?
• Who will run the meeting?
• How do I keep it running smoothly?
In fact, those were the very questions I encountered as I began hosting these meetings, and I have to admit, my first experiences had their share of bloopers and blunders. Some of the meetings I held back in the early 2000s were probably disasters and a waste of time. They lacked an agenda and purpose, ran too long, lacked notes and target points each member needed to follow up on, and had way too many people in attendance. In addition, the meetings were laden with stray conversations and lack of control. Many times, one or two vocal individuals controlled the temp and topics of the meeting. I was completely unsatisfied with the approach that I took on these meetings as it wasted people's time and productivity.
One of the very first meetings I held went way too long, somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5 to 3 hours. Another meeting I was involved in had 18 people in attendance with two to three people from every company involved. This was complete over-kill. At yet another early meeting, a producer requested a definite beginning and end time. We started the meeting on time, minus two key people. They arrived about 10 minutes late and proceeded to ask a question that had already been discussed. The producer told them we had already discussed it, and they could have been involved in the discussion had they been on time. This was not a pleasant experience for anyone involved.
Despite these early mishaps, I was convinced that bringing people together to discuss concerns and problems the dairy producer was dealing with was a worthy cause. I took a look at the problems we had been experiencing and developed a plan to get the most out of our collaboration.
Several items need to be thought through prior to arranging the first meeting. These include:
1. What is the key purpose or goal of forming the group? When dealing with reproduction, there are some specific questions you need to answer. How do we compare to our goals? How well are cows transitioning? Nutritionally, are we set up for production and reproduction? If using protocol programs, how is compliance? Are we achieving enough pregnancies a week to maintain the herd?
2. Who should be involved? An ideal number of participants would be six to eight and can include, but are not limited to, the farm owner, herdsperson, nutritionist, A.I. representative, banker and veterinarian.
3. An agenda should be prepared and sent to all participants in advance of the meeting to allow for proper preparation. This agenda needs several key components:
• Discussion points with designated individuals to cover each point
• A review of assignments from the previous meeting
• Beginning and ending times. No longer than 1.5 hours.
• A review of where the team stands with the group's goals
4. Where can the meeting be held that is quiet and away from areas that need to be accessed by farm employees? I have found that getting people off the farm for a breakfast or lunch meeting is productive. Alternating who will pay the cost of these meetings among the people involved has worked well.
5. Procure a LCD projector to use for displaying presentations, charts and data. The use of this technology keeps everybody on the same page, as it prevents individuals from looking ahead in paper hand-outs. If paper hand-outs are necessary, make sure participants bring enough copies for everyone in the group.
In order for productive meeting results, the structure and purpose need to continue once the meeting begins.
• During the first meeting, set goals and ground rules for the meetings. One rule I strongly suggest is that all phones need to be turned off. Other rules can be determined by the group, but could include how much time is allotted for each person to discuss a topic.
• Establish a facilitator. This is simply the individual that will control the flow of conversation to keep it focused on the tasks included in the agenda and following the ground rules established for the meetings.
• Designate someone to be the note-taker.
• Make sure everyone is called upon for their input. Many times there are quiet individuals that need a little prompting to participate.
• Determine no more than three action items that need to be completed for the next meeting and assign them.
• Conclude by deciding on a date, time and place for the next meeting.
Successful meetings don't just happen; they are planned and prepared for well in advance. Participants need to understand they don't just show up. Their preparation and input is important and necessary. By following these tips, I am confident your meetings will garner the positive results desired by all.