Strong Volunteer Teams

10 Mar

I was blessed to attend the Gurus of Tech conference last week in Chicago. One of the breakouts I went to was on leading volunteers and was lead by Jill Werst who was a mountain of knowledge. The most pivotal take-away for me was this: your best recruitment tool is investing in your current volunteers. Wow. That really resonates with what I have seen work and fail over 20 years. But how do we invest in our current volunteers?

Volunteers crave trust, a mission, excellence, and team. If we can create an environment where they have all four, they will thrive. And they will bring their friends who will also thrive. Let’s look at each of these.

Trust

Can your volunteers trust that you will give them the information they need to feel successful? How is your communication process? Confusion and chaos is not the best environment and will scare people off. When there is insecurity, there is high turnover. Do they trust that you will teach them what they need to know so that they feel valuable or are you just throwing them in the deep end of the pool? Do you have documentation? Volunteers LOVE checklists. Do they trust that you will begin and end when you said you would? Nothing breaks trust faster than wasting people’s time.

Mission

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
-Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

This is absolutely key to building strong volunteer teams. I spend time teaching my set up team knots. Yes knots! Sound exciting? Not really, eh? But we always go big picture – why is this knot important (it’s adjustable), why does it matter (it saves time later, we are serving someone else by using the right knot), why does THAT matter? Because the less time the staff has to focus on tweaking on Saturday, the more time they can spend on other things and it all impacts the experience that our attenders have. This knot helps bring people to Christ. 🙂 Yes, I go there and we make it a little bit of a joke – just because that’s my personality with my team – but the idea sticks. What you do has epic consequences. When you connect those dots for your team, you develop pride and workmanship that would be missed without it.

Excellence

Let’s face it. Nobody wants to be part of a team that sucks. It guarantees dissatisfaction, disappointment, and turnover. Time spent in training and planning pays off in exponential dividends. If your volunteers don’t feel like they are a part of something great, they won’t stay. No one does everything perfectly, but there are two ways to break this down – product and attitude. Product – if your end product is not good quality, you’ll never have a great team. Perhaps that should be your starting point. Building a team without a product is a cart before the horse kind of thing. Attitude – are you praising when things done well? Publicly? Twitter and Facebook are fantastic tools for this. Everyone loves a public ‘attaboy’. Are you making sure that you honor the absentee and never NEVER allow disparaging comments in team? If you shut people down when they complain about other departments, they will know that you have their back when they are complained about. This is related to the trust thing. If you focus on an uplifting attitude – being a place people love to be, you will have achieved half the battle to excellence.

Team

One of the most deeply seeded needs God put in us is the need to belong. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, when you feel a part of something bigger than yourself, magic happens. Connect with your team regularly in and out of work time. Read their Facebook, ask about their family publicly so that other join that conversation too. Here is the craziest little big thing that has helped our team – names. Learn everyone’s names and make them do it too. When your stage manager calls for the ‘guitar player’ rather than for Jon, when the speaker calls someone “power point guy” rather than Chris…it’s disrespectful and disheartening. Become a culture that uses names, there’s nothing more personal. Use name tags, put the names on production copies, be the example. No one feels a part of a team where the leaders and teammates don’t know each others names. Do whatever it takes – you’ll be stunned what a change in attitude of the team that makes.

Thank people. This cannot be said enough. Thank them privately and publicly. Thank them thank them thank them. I go around and thank each individual crew and cast member every week with something personal about their performance each week. (“I loved that camera shot on the fade out of the acoustic piece! Nice eye!”) Send them thank you notes periodically, call them once a quarter for no reason but to say “I appreciate your work and commitment.” It’s such an easy thing and it’s vital for people to feel like they are noticed and appreciated. This is especially critical with large teams where people have a tendency to feel lost and unnoticed.

Trust, mission, excellence and team are the keys to strong teams. Not skills. 🙂 It’s an upside down way to look at things, maybe, but almost anyone can be taught skills, it’s the environment that you create that builds a strong team.

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