Leading through cooperation

Posted on Sep 21 2018 in LaGrange County REMC


LaGrange County REMC crew leaders are, from left, Delmar Bontrager, Chris Mynhier and Nate Yoder.

When LaGrange County REMC restructured the leadership of its operations department, no one expected the transition to be quite so seamless. But after months in place, it’s developed into a successful team endeavor that promotes cooperation and communication both within the co-op and with our members.

Three employees now lead the operations department as crew leaders: Chris Mynhier, Delmar Bontrager and Nate Yoder. With their 66 years of combined experience, the team brings a new perspective to the responsibilities once held by a single foreman. By dividing the weight of such a responsibility, the new structure has opened lines of communication and boosted the collaborative spirit of the department.

“With multiple crew leaders, for me at least, if I see a challenge coming down the road, I can bounce it off these two guys and say ‘Hey, what do you think?’ instead of me sitting out here on an island, thinking I’ve got to make the right decision here by myself,” Yoder said.

Their duties are divided on a rotation schedule. Each month, one of the crew leaders is tasked with the role of construction crew leader, another with being tree crew leader and the third goes back to his routine duties as a lineman, while providing backup and support to the other two in leadership positions.

This allows each to be a leader in the department, but also have time to step back from a role that can be isolating at times, to reconnect with fellow members of the operations department.

“As a three-man crew, we have to work together a lot. Two out of the three of us will be in leadership positions each month, but the three of us have a good relationship to help each other to keep it going,” Bontrager said. “The main thing that’s driving us right now is that we want to make sure everyone continues in a positive direction.”

The structure allows the leaders to brainstorm with each other to find the best solution to each problem, while also training others in the department on how to accomplish tasks in more than one way. It also opens up dialogue between the crew leaders and the rest of the department.

“You get set in a certain way of doing things, and these guys come up with fresh ideas that I never even thought of,” Mynhier said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But we bounce ideas off of each other a lot.”

Some may think it’s a situation of having too many cooks in the kitchen, but these roles come with a heavy weight of responsibility in organizing smaller teams within the department, while also maintaining important relationships with their co-workers. The rotation allows them to keep communication lines open and breed a culture of cooperation that will extend to the membership.

CEO Mark Leu and Operations Manager Terry Helmer saw the transition as an opportunity to keep the co-op’s high standard of reliability, since there will always be someone there to lead regardless of vacation or holiday schedules, as well as benefit others in the operations department by providing more potential opportunities for learning.

“There’s a flexibility that comes with such a structure and schedule, as other crew members can see what makes a good leader and can learn from each of the crew leaders’ styles and learn more than one way to accomplish a goal,” Leu said. “I’m happy with how seamless the transition has been. Members should only see a difference when it comes in the overall improvement of our operations.”

Also pleased with how the transition has gone so far — with just a few additional meetings added to their schedules — Mynhier is content to focus on each day as it comes and how he can serve the membership as the crew leader, whether that’s helping to chop an additional tree as part of requested right-of-way work or listening to members’ concerns.

“It may take a little extra time, and now we’re ‘heroes.’ But we don’t do it for that; we do it because that’s the right thing to do for our members,” Mynhier said. “Our job is to turn on the lights and keep them on, and we do it very well.”

KELLY LYNCH is communications specialist at LaGrange County and Noble REMCs.