5 Dos & Don’ts of Leading Volunteers

Being a volunteer myself involved in leading volunteers, I get to reflect often on how things are done and how to improve.

It is without doubt that leading volunteers tends to be tricky as you’ll have to ensure motivation and commitment are high at all times. Moreover, you’ll need to take care of the feelings and aspirations of the volunteers, no matter how young or old they are.

So to make things simple, I am going to share with you 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts in managing and leading volunteers:

Dos:

  • Thank volunteers at every milestone, every good report, every job well done. There is no upper limit of how much you can thank them and how. It can range from a simple thank you email, a tap on the shoulder, to inviting them for a free dinner/lunch/get-away.
  • Give volunteers space to make decisions and have a say in what is being done. Barely anyone likes to do donkey work or to simply follow steps given, let the volunteer role be more demanding and challenging.
  • Lead by being a role model, show the way and be the first to step up for action. It takes people a very short time to realize preachers from doers.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up… oh and did I say it’s important to follow up? You wont imagine how smooth things will go if you just remind people if they missed something ,follow up on tasks to be done and make sure things are progressing as planned. If you just sit there and expect volunteers to get things done without any follow up..at least at the beginning, then you’ll be surprised.
  • Be friendly, polite and respectful. Yes they may seem trivial, but so many times discussions, emails or meetings can become tense, issues urgent, stakes high…that you might lose your temper, say something mean, be a bit harsh or disrespectful. Once you do that..you know you’re going to lose some one from the team or lose their trust and respect to say the least.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t underestimate any volunteer’s abilities, knowledge, network or creativity. You’ll be surprised with how much people can do when you believe in them.
  • Don’t blame or criticize volunteers publicly. Keep morale high and respect of others to each other and to yourself, if you have something negative to say…say it one-to-one.
  • Don’t take all the credit. Give credit where credit belongs… if the team is doing a good job, you owe them the credit, not yourself.
  • Don’t be biased for personal reasons. Give work, credit or thanks for those who are doing work…not for those you like or you’re friends with.
  • Don’t keep information hidden to yourself. Sharing knowledge, experience, information, contacts ..etc. with your  team is key to show them you trust them and to empower them with what they need to lead…to become self-motivated and self-managed.

I hope those few things help you out! 🙂

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Creating Organizational Structures that Work

The more I see companies, NGOs, associations and other organizations struggle to make sense of who’s doing what in the organization the more I become convinced that structuring is crucial.

When I say structuring, many people directly imagine hierarchy, bureaucracy and lack of flexibility… yet that does not have to be the case. Organizational structures, if done well, will build on the expertise of individuals involved, the organizational capacity, needs and goals. These elements are the corner stone to building a successful organization that can secure sustainability and growth.

Simple yet crucial questions I ask to the organizations I consult include:

  • Who sets the organizational structure?
  • Who decides when and how new positions/responsibilities are added to the structure?
  • Is the organizational structure Functional, Projectized or Matrix?
  • Does everyone know their roles and responsibilities?
  • Does everyone know how their tasks fit with others’ tasks?
  • Is there a promotion/growth plan for the organization?
  • Does everyone know what is needed to do to move up the ladder?
  • Does everyone see the big picture, the overall structure and the logic behind it?
  • Is there a chance to solicit feedback about the structure from grassroots up?
  • Did you research structures of organizations in your industry and learn from them?

Surprisingly, most people know the answer of 2 or 3 of the above 10…and that’s when they realize they’re facing a problem with the organizational structure. The structure often seems so foggy as if it is coming from some alien planet, rather than being something that grew organically with the organization in a way to better manage its work…and reach its goals.

Building on my humble experience and the research I’ve made…the few recommendations I can give to people who are working on establishing/improving an organizational structure are as follows:

  • Observe how the organization is functioning right now, see where the bottlenecks are, and the loop holes.
  • Assess the performance of the whole organization by taking input of everyone possible, from senior management to interns to all other stakeholders.
  • Ask yourself what other structures exist for your industry and how can you best learn from them.
  • Focus on roles, responsibilities and tasks…not on the titles and positions, as they should come last after having set the structure.
  • Make sure you have the right people in the right places, the Person-Role must match or they will already be sabotaging your organization.
  • Resistance to change is normal, deal with it with utmost positivity and be as considerate and understand of other’s worries as possible or else you’ll lose their productivity.
  • Give your structure a margin of change as it might need to evolve a bit from your original plan to accommodate to some personal and organizational needs.

I hope the above gave you a better insight on creating organizational structures that work… I’m ready for all questions, suggestions and comments.

Happy Structuring!  😀

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