A Challenge for You: Collaboration

Dr. Bob Milligan, Dairy Strategies LLC

Bob Milligan

“Two minds are better than one.” I am a believer in this oft used saying meaning that better decisions can be made when multiple people are proactively addressing an issue or decision. As farm businesses face increasingly complex problems, opportunities, and solutions; I believe collaboration is increasingly important. Perhaps, it is even necessary for success.

My challenge to you is to use the next six months to greatly increase the effective use of collaboration with your most important team – leadership team, crop team, dairy team, feeding team, milking team, etc.

In this article I identify three collaboration lessons to assist you in meeting my challenge.

Collaboration Lesson Number One

Our son has been working diligently to improve his LinkedIn profile. He has sent my wife and I several drafts to review. Typically, we look at it and think it looks great. When he follows with a phone call, we discuss. That discussion has led to additional potential improvements – collaboration. Interestingly, we often identified those improvements by listening to him and then integrating what we heard with our own insights to provide improvement ideas.

The collaboration improvement has come most importantly by listening. Listening is needed to identify the interests of all parties so common interests can be identified and used in the collaboration. Steven Covey highlighted this as his habit four (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People): “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

The discussion with our son identified an even more powerful use of listening as identifying ideas from his discussion that could be integrated with our knowledge to identify even better outcomes.

Collaboration Lesson Number One:

Listening may be the most powerful tool for excellent collaboration.

Collaboration Lesson Number Two

We frequently hear the recommendation that disagreeing people or groups should compromise. I am usually upset by this recommendation because I do not find compromise particularly valuable. I believe most disagreements should be resolved with collaboration.



I use the following role play dialogue to illustrate the difference between compromise and collaboration. The role play portrays two dialogues between a father and his son who are partners in a farm business.

The first dialog represents a compromise with little synergy:

Son:          Did you hear that the White Farm is for sale?

Dad:          I have not heard that, but I am not surprised.

Son:          They are selling 310 acres and keeping the house.  I have done some figuring on how we could    buy it.  I think we should talk to our lender about borrowing the money to make the purchase.

Dad:          WOW! I don’t think that will work.  You know your mother and I will need money for our retirement.  We intend to travel.

Son:          But what about the future of the farm. All farms are getting bigger.

Dad:          That is a good point.  How about if we keep our eyes out for a piece of land about half that size.

Son:          That may take years.

Dad:          Patience son.  Do you know how long it took your mother and me to get to 320 acres?

Son:          Ooo Kkk (clearly disappointed)

Note that both father and son were stating their positions and the proposed outcome is somewhere between the two positions – a compromise.

In the second dialog there is more listening and brainstorming – collaboration:

Son:          Did you hear that the White Farm is for sale?

Dad:          I have not heard that, but I am not surprised.

Son:          They are selling 310 acres and keeping the house.  I have done some figuring on how we could buy it.  I think we should talk to our lender about borrowing the money to make the purchase.

Dad:          Son that is a big decision.  Let’s take a good look at it.  I understand buying land is important, but have you thought about why you think we need more land?

Son:          Not really.  I guess it is to get bigger; my college prof always said: “If you aren’t growing, you are falling behind.”

Dad:          That is a good point.  So, size and profitability is one reason you want to grow.  What else?

Son:          Good question (hesitating).  I think it is because I am looking for more challenge and more responsibility.

Dad:          Let me share my concern about buying that much land right now.  Your mother and I are really looking forward to being able to enjoy retirement.  The farm is the only resource we have for money for travel.  I have great faith in you son! However, we lived through the ‘80s and financial challenges can come from changes out of your control.  We really are not willing to take that great a risk.  Does that make sense to you?

Son:          It does; so, what do we do?

Dad:          Let’s think of ideas that could work for all of us.  You really did well with that accounting minor you had in college. I’ll bet Joe, our accountant, could use that expertise part time.

Son:          Wow!  I never thought about that.  That does sound challenging!  Can we think about more ideas and meet again tomorrow?

Dad:          Great!!!



This dialogue contains listening, brainstorming, and thinking. Both are pleased with the outcome. I describe this as collaboration.

I think of compromise as finding a middle ground that both or all parties can grudgingly accept. A collaboration involves working together to find the absolute best solution that the several minds can generate.

Collaboration Lesson Number Two:

Don’t be satisfied with compromise; use the power of collaboration to develop an outstanding solution or decision.

Collaboration Lesson Number Three:

What must be done to successfully collaborate? Successful communication takes commitment and time. Perhaps the most difficult barrier is our almost intrinsic belief in agriculture that if we are not doing tasks, we are not working. I recall a meeting with a farm family where at the end of the meeting, the father said: “Now we can get back to work.” The first challenge then is to assure (and perhaps convince) everyone that time spent collaborating is a valuable, maybe the most valuable, use of time.

Collaboration is like any other skill, success (mastery) requires commitment and practice. Especially with larger teams, success means getting together – meetings – with excellent leadership required. These meetings may be regularly schedule or called for a specific purpose – planning, after action revues, etc.

The excellent leadership must create a meeting culture where every member feels free to contribute ideas and to piggyback on other ideas. Building this culture requires that the formal and/or informal leaders be patient, encouraging, and empathic in ensuring every voice is heard.

Collaboration lesson number 3: Collaboration requires some structure, excellent leadership, and a culture of openness.

Full Steam Ahead!

Editor’s note: This article appears in Dr. Bob Smith’s  November newsletter, Learning Edge Monthly.  For more information, he can be contacted at (651) 647-0495 or rmilligan@trsmith.com

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