Employ Teamwork With Volunteers to Avoid Negative Situations like FIRING and to implement CHANGE!

This blog is in response to RC Ranaswamy's blog on the topic of "Can we FIRE a Volunteer? 2010 LDC Reflections" that I would title: "Employ Teamwork with volunteers to avoid negative situations like FIRING and to implement CHANGE!"

All organizations face productivity and leadership challenges that can be due to personalities, established networks, fierce competition, etc. In addition to the presence of a lack of productivity by volunteers in organizations I have been a part of, I hear an equal number of comments from several ambitious gen X and millennial volunteers expressing frustration when saying things like: "...older generation get out of the way!" and interest when saying "...how can I get involved?". It is also important to realize how much responsibility one can handle and what your goals are. Be sure to approach situations with tact, which can be another challenge entirely. The comment: "...older generation get out of the way!" should come across more like: "...here, let me help you, so you can help me too!"

As I try to figure out how these types of comments and situations arise (i.e. lazy volunteers, organizational stagnation and frustrated new blood infusion), it is apparent to me that one strategy is tried and true--ask questions and take action. Further, take action and do a good job! When you ask questions and get involved, it doesn't take long before stagnant or less than productive situations dissolve.

It doesn't take long before negative perspective (e.g. the suggestion of firing) do not need to be brought up, and new thoughts are introduced. No one likes negative view points and most of the volunteers that I know, really want to have an impact, want to help out, communicate REALLY well without bias, and go OUT OF THEIR WAY to help out.

If you notice that someone isn't carrying the volunteer mantle, simply suggest that you can take on the responsibility! There is little reason why someone in a volunteer organization should be fired, the role just needs to be filled and it should be obvious if someone isn't filling a role. Maybe group support will be required to address the situation. I once proposed for another professional society that I am a member of that a leadership role be filled with someone that could attend meetings and complete responsibilities.

The initial feedback in the meeting setting was shock and disbelief. In this particular situation, being such a small and tight-knit group, the entire group provided the necessary support and positive encouragement for the member to fill the role. I have practiced and given talks on this topic as an undergraduate starting over ten years ago. I've seen that across the board, no matter where I go in my career; there are a multitude of teamwork-focused volunteer leadership roles that need to be filled. Organizations should be flexible enough to allow for questions to be brought up in a non-threatening manner and allow for change to occur.

In closing and in an entirely clich? manner; there is no I in Team and I can't emphasize enough one of the take home points from Syamal Poddar's talk during the 2010 LDC: communication is CRITICAL and REQUIRED.

Any other ideas?

Feed with Care Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13592495@N08/2344202300/
Standing Volunteers Image taken from: http://pages.cms.k12.nc.us/thomasboro/partnerships.html


There are so many good points in this post. Communication is Critical and Required - always always always. This is something that seems to be the first to be forgotten. People don’t answer emails or people are left out of email chains – it can cause confusion and bitterness and is something that can be easily avoided. Sometimes people do not have the time to complete the responsibilities of a volunteer position – this happens, life happens – and the position should be held by someone who believes that they have the time to commit to it. Learning the Work-Life-Volunteer balance is a tough lesson – no one has the time to do everything that they want to do and stepping down from a volunteer position isn’t a bad thing – sometimes it is necessary.

Sorry - they said the post was too long. Here is the rest: Having a good mix of experience and new blood in an organization can keep the energy up and keep the organization full of fresh ideas. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve been in an organization where there seemed to be an generational struggle. I have been lucky to be involved with groups where people of all generations have been able to work quite well together. When new engineers graduate from college and move to a new area, many reach out to organizations they were a part of in college (like AIChE) – they may email and want to be involved - this is great but if organizations are slow to utilize their enthusiasm, they could unknowingly alienate the would-be volunteers. People like to work where they feel wanted and that is where they will dedicate their time.

Robert S's picture

That Volunteer Care and Feeding Guide graphic really says it all. Reminding volunteers that their work is valuable, appreciated, and fits into the larger mission can be invaluable in keeping them engaged and motivated. It works better to guide their interests and passions with positive messages and allow them to grab as much responsibility as they want.

And the thing is, that doesn't just apply to volunteer work. Even in paid work, people need to feel appreciated and valuable which can generate a positive work environment (promotion, recognition, periodic celebrations and perks). A negative work environment can be poisonous to the company and the people and they aren't going to stick around if they have the choice. Companies get a lot more out of the engaged and motivated workers - I feel that in the recent economic difficulties, it has been harder to keep workers positive as alot more is asked of them with fewer rewards or recognitions.

RC Ramaswamy's picture

Good points, Cory. Communication is the key solution for the majority of issues in profesional life, volunteer life and in personal life. You said it well: "Organizations should be flexible enough to allow for questions (questioning culture) to be brought up in a non-threatening manner and allow for change to occur" - this is another formalized communication channel! I liked the volunteer care and feeding guide graphic !