Virtual Dairy Advisory Teams provide ‘social distance’ and effective communication

Penn State

Dairy Advisory Team lead to better communication

In 2020 as winter moves into spring the world is being rocked by COVID-19. While our dairy farm businesses continue to be key drivers in our food production system as well as local, state, national and international economies, it is clearly not “business as usual” with regard to vital communication between farm owners and the dairy business advisors that help these farms to be successful. Social distancing and the need for all to stay healthy during this time mean fewer in person visits to the farm. Service and supply personnel for agricultural businesses, like the farms and growers themselves, have been recognized as essential for our continued supply of safe, healthy food. Just as the supply chain of goods and services are essential to keeping the farms running, the continued communication with farm advisors is also essential for the overall health of the business long term.

Dairy advisory teams – regular meetings of a variety of off-farm advisors with a structured format – have been a valuable tool for business operation, planning and succession for many dairy farms. These teams lead to better communication – everyone sees the same data, hears the same information, at the same time. These teams lead to sound decision making – farm owners get all the opinions and information relevant before making crucial choices. These teams lead to improved productivity and profitability through working together to accomplish shared goals for success. Currently, these teams are not able to meet face to face given the restrictions in place to protect individuals and communities through social distancing.

Not being able to have your dairy advisory team around your conference room or kitchen table does not mean that your team can’t be working together virtually. In fact, during times of rapidly changing information and crisis, it is probably more important than ever to have that communication and sound decision-making help of your team surrounding you and your business. Virtual communication options enable your dairy advisory team to continue its vital functioning during these uncertain times. Video conferencing tools, such as, Google Duo and Skype, are readily available for use on your computer or smartphone to help with this communication. There are many team tools that can be used such as Google Suite and Office 365. There are also telecommuting applications like Facetime, Skype and Zoom as well as a variety of video conferencing services for small businesses.

During this time of social distancing, dairy owners may be having more frequent communications with a variety of off-farm advisors. Some of those advisors will be on the farm as well. However, the lack of structured team communications means that dairy owners are being asked to be the bridge between key advisors with regard to information flow. An alternative to this time consuming and, at times, disjointed communication may be through virtual meetings of the dairy advisory team in order to continue its critical role.

 





 

Virtual meetings can continue to take place for teams (and for day to day operations for dairies with satellite operations) in order to maintain communication and continue to make progress towards goals. Virtual meetings are not always as easily managed as face to face ones, so this article outlines some key points for making those virtual meetings more effective.

Unlike face to face meetings where participants have to travel a distance to meet, virtual meetings have no travel time so they can be scheduled more frequently and can – and should – be shorter in duration. Adjusting the amount of information to deal with at one time and having shorter virtual meetings can help with focus and productivity. Just as with face to face meetings, having an agenda and a timeframe continue to be critical for efficiency. A dairy team that typically meets for 90 minutes every quarter or every month, may want to meet virtually for 30 minutes every two or three weeks in order to make certain that any changes happening are communicated to all team members. Because team members need to adjust to this virtual environment, it is important to remember the strategies for good team dynamics that were used effectively in face to face meeting are still important in the virtual environment.

Some of those include:

  • Trust among team members
  • A structured agenda
  • Clear goals and objectives
  • An operational environment that allows for open, honest communication
  • Good follow-up between meetings.

All of these strategies can be used by a facilitator to maintain progress in a virtual environment. Some of these key strategies for virtual teams were highlighted in a Harvard Business Review article, entitled: Getting Virtual Teams Right (1). The authors of the article also suggested that virtual teams be limited to 10 or fewer members in order to prevent “social loafing”(online but not engaged). The article indicated that while some virtual teams struggled to be productive, others saw 43% gains in productivity.

Choosing to continue your Dairy Advisory Team virtually when face to face meetings are not possible, can help dairy farms and other agricultural businesses to be more competitive and to function better during times of crisis. Remember to continue to use those good team practices.(2)

(1) Ferrazzi, Keith, et al. “Getting Virtual Teams Right.” Harvard Business Review, 10 Mar. 2015, hbr.org/2014/12/getting-virtual-teams-right.

(2) Holden, Lisa A. “Team Meetings.” Penn State Extension, 9 Mar. 2020, extension.psu.edu/team-meetings.

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