As a dairy business leader, you are a member of the team that is responsible for ensuring that your dairy continues to thrive. This team is responsible for the vision/mission, strategy and business culture of the dairy. The future success of the dairy is highly dependent on the successful functioning of this team. My suggestion for your leadership team is that each member of the team read Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and then discuss how you can improve team function based on what you read.

Lencioni uses a story about a fictional firm to describe the five team dysfunctions. The order he presents these dysfunctions in should be noted, as a team must conquer the dysfunctions in the following order:

  1. Absence of trust — Trust is the basis of all relationships. Team relationships are no exception. The following four dysfunctions, especially the next one, cannot be overcome without a high degree of trust among the members of the leadership team.
  2. Fear of conflict — In my experience, this is the most difficult dysfunction to overcome for most farm leadership teams, especially those made up of family members. The goal of most farm and family leadership teams is to “get along.” I want people to get along; however, if “get along” means not stating one’s ideas and opinions and refraining from challenging ideas due to fear of conflict, there is little collaboration and even less synergy. Without collaboration and synergy, the leadership team cannot fulfill its true potential.
  3. Lack of commitment — Not every leadership team member will always agree with every decision. But every team member must be committed to every decision. Without trust and a willingness to engage in discussion and debate, this level of commitment is unlikely (probably impossible).
  4. Avoidance of accountability — Most supervisors struggle to effectively hold employees accountable. Holding partners accountable is even more difficult. It is, however, necessary. I encourage partners to view themselves as being accountable to the team. This is especially difficult for the senior partners, as they are often used to having the final say. 
  5. Inattention to results — It is crucial for the leadership team to be focused on results. A scorecard of 6-10 key measures of performance is a valuable tool to avoid this dysfunction.

Being a great partner is extremely difficult. It requires making the team a priority, examining team functionality and committing again and again to team improvement. 

Leadership Lesson: Being a partner means you are a member of a leadership team that requires trust, debate, commitment, accountability and a focus on results. 

Bob Milligan is Senior Consultant with Dairy Strategies LLC and Professor Emeritus at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. He can be reached at or 651-647-0495.