Thursday, September 29, 2011

Same-same but different: Managing a Volunteer Team PART ONE

PART ONE: Examining the differences and the similarities between Hired Teams and Volunteer Teams.

So! You've got a team assembled in front of you that looks primed, hyped and ready for action.

Lucky you! Or …?

There's something that's just a bit different about this group and although you're a seasoned manager and have led dozens of teams on many different kinds of projects, you can't quite put your finger on what you think is going to happen with this group.
Why? Well, these folks are volunteers!
A team is a team is a team, Generally speaking, yes; the similarities are many and often the same rules and techniques apply in management. In one major and fundamental way however, there are differences between paid-for teams and volunteer teams that you need to be aware of. That awareness might spell the factor between success or derailment.

Here are some basic points about the differences between Volunteer Teams (VT) and Hired Teams (HT). Identifying the differences helps to understand how best to lead volunteers and how to deal with some of their special issues.

Identifying the task: Why do you need a team?

Tasks can be one-off for short-term, or long-term ongoing projects. Teams that tackle these tasks, (VT and HT), can also be assembled for the short-term or built for long life. In that case, members may change periodically or float in and out. Why is it important to identify the task and the configuration of the team? Because changing people or time factors affect the dynamics of how the team functions. Some might be in it for the long run, some for the short. As a volunteer, it is they who decide how much time they are willing to commit to a project as opposed to a hired team which usually has the time parameters dictated.

In any event, for all the qualities that hired teams or volunteer teams may share or not share, the single most important differentiator in a volunteer team is being aware of your member's motivation.

Motivation: Why are your team members here?

For the firm, the team member is a "tool" and a definite means to an end. If there is no tool on hand or a crucial skill set is missing among available personnel, the firm buys a new tool (hires) or rents the tool (outsources). The hiring process is a pure business transaction. The "tool" needs to perform a function from which the firm will profit and for which the employee is rewarded by being paid a wage. This is a rather simple equation. The searching, hiring, training and adjustment period for a new hire is expensive for a firm because the processes they've financially invested in to find the right employee has not yet yielded results from which the firm can profit.

As a result, in a company, the motivating factor for a team member to do his job is that he is being paid a wage to perform a task.

In many firms, teams are assembled from the available workforce. A company has a personality and a culture. When looking for new employees, they prescreen at the hiring phase. Of course, a candidate is vetted for needed talent and skills first and foremost. But he is also screened for profile and the "right fit" to the company and to the team if already existing. If a candidate does not fit the preconceived idea the company has, he is simply not hired. Therefore, if a team is assembled from within the company, he has already gone through some kind of screening process regarding skills and fit.

This careful process provides the team with balance. Theoretically at least, the hired team already has the fundamental requirements to perform the task built-in and should function. (If the team is not functioning, we have to examine why and which adjustments need to be made. This is further explored in PART TWO of this article).

In worst case scenarios, after hiring, if the new employee does not function properly or the results are less than satisfactory, he is closely examined to determine if adjustments or special training needs to occur. The firm has already invested in him and may decide it is cheaper to make adjustments then to start all over to find a replacement. Time is money. And money is money.

In conclusion we can assume that the employee and the firm are both intensely interested in the employee's performance. Both parties look to achieve top output as quickly as possible. The employee is highly motivated because he wishes to keep his job and he wants the financial reward associated with his performance. The firm is highly motivated to reap the benefits of their investment.

Volunteer Projects and Teams

Volunteer Projects on the other hand, draw a number of folk from every-which-where. In the best of cases, volunteer motivation is usually driven by some kind of passion for the task at hand or the Organization that sponsors the task. Those folks are on a mission and motivation is often not the issue. But they may not be skilled! And they may not "fit"! 'Aye, there's the rub'- as Shakespeare would say.

How can you get performance out of them if they're not skilled? How do you deal with a poor fit? Horror of horrors - What happens if they're on your team and they're not motivated?
PART TWO will explore the dynamics of Volunteer Teams and how to motivate them.

Please don't forget to add a comment, rebuttal or addition to this article. Am I discussing topics that are interesting to you? What would you like to talk about? Ellen

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Axel, and I have just learned about SMS'ing from/to a PC from you :) Ellen