We often talk about teamwork on the farm, but is that talk matched by reality? Are your employees functioning as a team or just as solo workers who come there to do their job and leave? There is a meaningful difference. We believe that there is great value in employees who function as members of a team, committed to improve and advance the business, and who work together to achieve goals. It is often stated and always true; teams achieve more than the sum of the individual efforts.
In an employee feedback project that my colleague Stan Moore and I conducted in which 174 employees from 14 dairies were interviewed, we asked employees to “rate the teamwork on the farm” on a scale of 1 – 5 with 1 = “very poor” and 5 = “very positive; we work together well”.
Across all employees the rating was 3.87. That doesn’t seem too bad. However, when we look at the responses by farm, the range was from a high of 4.83 to a low of 2.71. Do you think that there were differences in how those farms performed? How might employees on your farm rate the teamwork?
In the phone interviews, employees were encouraged to share comments. There were some positive comments, particularly on farms where the rating was high. But, among the comments were these:
- “Co-workers don’t help each other. If something breaks, people try to find somebody to blame.”
- “There is no communication between the shifts.”
- “There are some co-workers that don’t do much hard work. They are always waiting for someone else to do it. There is no communication.”
- “I don’t see us as a team.”
Within those comments we can see a frustration with dysfunction, a desire for cohesion and help, and a need for horizontal communication (between employees) as well as vertical communication (with the owners/managers). The evidence from the employee interviews tells us that satisfaction with fellow employees can affect job satisfaction, and ultimately employee turnover.
Recently, I spoke with a dairy owner who had just let go two employees. Following that, he heard from another employee how glad that he was that these two were no longer working there. Whenever this employee had asked one of the two to do something or asked for help, he was ignored, resulting in frustration and less efficiency on the farm.
Employees who don’t lend a hand and don’t get along, lower the morale and may be “toxic” to a culture of improvement on the farm. Employees who get away with poor performance set a bad example and precedent for other employees and impact the culture on the farm. As the owner or manager, you need to take ownership for the impact of employees on the culture. Ignoring it will not make it better, only worse.
On this same farm, one employee had a bad day and screamed obscenities at the owner in front of other employees. Because this had been a quality employee who had worked there for several years, the owner was gracious in meeting with her several days after that. When the employee apologized, this owner also requested that she apologize to the employees who were present during the tirade. She agreed after she was reminded about the example that she set in front of them.
Molding a true team is not easy, but it is beneficial. From the day someone fills out an application, potential new employees should be told that: “this is a team that works on the farm”. If they are hired, tell them they are joining a team. Set the expectation from the start that employees work together with management to accomplish goals.
When employee problems happen, remind employees that when they cause problems, they fail to help the farm achieve goals and they let the team down. When conflicts between people occur, refocus the employees on the farm goals and the team function.
Truly treat all employees like teammates. Provide them with information on farm performance, hold the team accountable for achieving goals and recognize the team when goals are met. Emphasize that team members help each other out, even at the end of a shift, and acknowledge when employees do that.
Don’t just give lip-service to team work; it has to be the way that you think about your operation. In addition, practice teamwork among owners and managers. If the management team does not function like a team, employees will know it.
Engaged employees have a positive impact on the team as well as on the business. As the team leader, you are responsible to continually build that team.