What I Learned About Leading Effective Teams from 80 Goats, 2 Big Dogs, and a Llama

I witnessed an effective team in an unlikely place: a goat cheese creamery. The experience resulted in 4 questions to leading effective teams. Read on…

The other day I visited Mountain Lodge Farm in the Cascade foothills near Mount Rainier. As I approached the goat enclosure I was surprised to see a 6 foot tall llama and two big dogs right in there with the goats. While unraveling this mystery, four questions for leading effective teams hit me.

The Problem with Teams

People have a love-hate relationship with teams.

Too much time wasted in meetings…
Complementary strengths working together…
Too few doing all the work…
Shared commitment…

The see-saw of teams goes up and down.

Leading effective teams at Mountain Lodge Farm means each animal has his or her own role and duties. But all work toward a common result: excellent cheese.

I asked one of the farmers about the Llama. “Penny is a Guard Llama,” he told me. “The country around us is wild. There are coyote, cougar, bear and bobcat. The electric fence helps keep predators out. Those who come near meet Penny the 300 pound llama. She sounds the alarm and is able to spit and stomp to defend the herd.”

Two large dogs join in the protection squad. Responding to Penny’s alarm call, the dogs will chase off anything threatening the small goats.

The farm has around 80 Nigerian dwarf and La Mancha dairy goats that they milk twice a day. They selected these breeds due to their very sweet, rich milk high in butterfat and protein, that is perfect for making cheese.

The purpose of the goats, dogs and llama living together is to produce excellent cheese. In fact, Mountain Lodge’s cheesemaker Meghan McKenna has received a lot of recognition for their goat cheese. While Meghan steers praise back to the goats, the llama and the dogs should not be overlooked.

Leading Effective Teams

The team at Mountain Lodge have brought together goats, big dogs, and a llama to produce a fantastic product. Here are four questions that you can ask to increase the effectiveness of your team.

  1. What is your team’s primary purpose? A clear purpose and concrete objectives is the first step in leading effective teams. The objectives determine what needs to be done and whose contribution is needed to achieve them.
  2. What roles need to be done to fulfill this purpose? Objectives that require a team need contributions of people with different skills and strengths. Getting the right person for the task is essential.
  3. How clear is each team member on the primary purpose? It is still amazing to me how quickly clarity of purpose is lost. Review the team purpose and objectives at every chance.
  4. How much does each team member value other team members? Although I did not sense any jealousy between the goats, dogs, and llama, it is not uncommon for some team members to feel they are working harder than the rest. Or feel more important than the rest. Counter this tendency by recognizing the contributions of various team members. Show how each person’s contribution is essential to the larger result.

Teams are hard work. Leading effective teams takes time and effort. And even more difficult, it takes relying on others – something we often go to great lengths to avoid. Effective teams produce a big payoff, going far beyond what any team member could have done on his or her own.

Are you ready to increase your effectiveness? Take 30 minutes to reflect on these four questions. If you have satisfactory answers, ask teams members for their answers and compare notes.

Question: How have you seen your team effectiveness increase by clarifying these 4 questions? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    One thought on “What I Learned About Leading Effective Teams from 80 Goats, 2 Big Dogs, and a Llama

    1. I love that team. It’s an especially effective metaphor because I am sure there are quite a few goats on my team as well. I think one thing leaders often do is forget to make sure everybody on the team knows their specific role. Great post. Keep it up.