Leading Volunteers - Week 4

COMMUNITY

This series started with us talking about the value of people over systems and how personal relationships really are the fuel for every system and structure. For this last post in the series, I thought we’d talk more about doing community together. 

"Community" is sort of a buzzword right now, but that doesn't have to stop us from recognizing the incredible benefits that come from real, vulnerable relationships. The idea that we should be pursuing these types of relationships definitely shouldn't only be applied to teams, ministry or otherwise. In fact, the whole concept is built around a family structure, and should flow naturally from our pursuit of honest relationships with ourselves and the people in every area of our lives. 

Honest community creates a bond and camaraderie that doesn't come any other way. Doing life together with your team creates trust and a shared commitment to whatever goal you're pursuing. Life happens in community - sharing bread and wine together is the foundational stuff of life lived to the full. 

We get to choose the people around us we are close to, and pursuing community and doing life with those people is a great way to make that happen! 

Don’t Wait

Whether you’re the leader, or you’re just a part of a team and want to see a closer knit community; Don’t wait for someone else to get something started. Be bold and take the initiative. Others will follow your lead. This can happen much more organically than we realize!

Be Intentional

If you’re leading, make community a core value and set up regular opportunities for connection and relationship building. We don’t have to overthink this. If you’re unsure what to do, FOOD is universally accepted as wonderful (well, at the very least necessary) and is a great excuse to get people together. 

Create A Safe Environment

Nobody will want to be a part of a community they feel is scary. Love covers, and we need to learn how to walk along side people with our arms around them instead of our fingers pointed at them. 

Be Aware Of Your Team's Culture

Even if your team's modus operandi is something you'd like to change, it's important to be aware of where things are currently. Take an honest look at the situation and get a plan for where you want this to go in the future. Sometimes things need to happen slowly and organically. Scheduled times may seem rigid and awkward to some. On the other hand, your team may respond better to regularly scheduled events and hangouts. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from the people around you. Get to know what they enjoy doing. Pay attention to things that work. You’ll know when it feels right!

Don't Give Up

Being in close community can be hard! Most people on the planet are not YOU; they have different attitudes, preferences and ways of seeing the world. When we can create an environment of open dialogue and acceptance, the payoff for our relationships and communities will be lasting and have a huge impact. Remember that close friendships and communities take time and real effort to build. Don’t be discouraged when it feels like nothing is happening. Remind yourself that you’re planting seeds, take your time, and you will see a great return on your efforts. 

Leading Volunteers - Week 3

Communication

Today's post will get a little more practical. Communication is super foundational to how successful we can be in relationships and leading teams. If you tend to lean towards being more "non-confrontational" it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the thought of giving and receiving honest feedback, or just brave communication in general; but because it is so crucial to growth and success of any kind, it's absolutely worth it to accept this challenge learn to grow in this area.  There is a sea of incredible resources available for anyone who wants to learn better communication skills. Books like "How To Win Friends And Influence People" are classic and great places to start. My point is that if you want to grow, just commit to starting from whatever place you're in. Find resources and principles you can try. It's ok to start slow, just start!

For today, I just wanted to point out a few key things that have helped foster healthier communication on teams I've been a part of.

 

1. Set Clear expectations

What is your ministry or organization's specific mission? What goals do you have for the short and long term? Do you have specific objectives in mind for your volunteers or team members? Do they know what these are? Every member of your team should be able to clearly articulate answers to these questions. Roles and objectives that are clearly outlined will get everyone working together and motivated get things accomplished. Keep these things in front of your people on a regular basis.

2. Communicate Often and Consistently

I keep re-learning this very important lesson. This is key in any organization or team, but especially in a volunteer environment where your people are busy with full time jobs, kid's sports schedules and life in general. It can be extremely frustrating when plans change but are not clearly communicated to your team members. I would suggest choosing a day of the week and sending out an email (or text or whatever works) as a weekly update. Whether or not you've told them in person or through some other means, take this opportunity to tell them again. Remind them about events or meetings for the week. Update them on any changes or important dates for the future, and tell them they're doing a great job! This is also a great way for you to keep yourself caught-up. 

3. Create Custom-Tailored Communication

Every culture and person is unique. It's important for you to find out how your people communicate and use those tools effectively to you and your team's advantage. You can send out emails every day, but if they aren't being read than you'll be wasting your time. Don't assume that the way you like to be contacted is the same for everyone else. Take the time to learn what quality connection and communication looks like for your people. An in-person meeting at a coffee shop might be most effective for some, while a text message or Skype call could work well for others. There are great tools out there that exist only to make team communication easier. In the ministry world, PLANNING CENTER is a great platform for organizing services and schedules for your volunteers. In a more general context, GoToMeeting is one of many platforms you can use to set up virtual meetings. If you use technology as a solution, remember that it will be a steeper learning curve for some, and you'll have to help them get on-board. 

4. Encourage Dialogue

Communication goes in both directions. Being a great listener will not only help you to know where your people are on their journey, it will also go a long way towards creating a culture of honest feedback and dialogue. Another great way to start this process is to begin asking your people for honest feedback about your leadership. This is scary! It's another opportunity for growth and when you are open to feedback and dialogue, you'll be creating that culture in your organization and teaching your people how to receive it for themselves. Another great culture-creating exercise: problem solve together. Take the time to brainstorm with your team. You'll be empowering them to take ownership and to be a part of solutions. You'll be a stronger team because of it. 

5. Empower Your People 

A healthy, creative culture means relying on your team to take initiative. Everyone has a distinct set of gifts and skill sets. When our people aren't empowered to take prudent risks or to be creative in their problem solving, we lose out on all that potential, and our organizations will suffer for it. Just asking the simple question "What do you think?", releases our people to buy-in and starts the creative solution process. This takes trust and risks failure, but none of us are immune to failure, it's just an opportunity to learn. As a team with unique backgrounds and strengths and weaknesses, we will be much stronger together, than we ever could be alone. 

Thanks for tuning in.

Last week in the series on Leading Volunteers is next week. See you then!

-Isaac

 

 

Leading Volunteers - Week 2

CREATING CULTURE

 

This is a topic we are talking about more and more at the church where I serve. It feels like there's always more to uncover, and it's a great place to be. One definition for the word "culture" is -the behaviors and beliefs characteristics of a particular social, ethnic, or age group- another dictionary definition says -the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another- . When I use the word culture here, I would say I'm mainly referring to belief systems. Our default ways of operating and seeing things. 

When we talk about culture, we can look at the larger picture of society as a whole (i.e. western culture). We can also talk about the smaller micro-cultures that exist within the organizations or ministries we lead, our team culture, and even the cultures that exist within ourselves. I believe that we should influence the society around us. How do we do this? The most effective method isn't to yell from a platform about our "better way". Rather, it's to demonstrate and live honestly. To create the culture in ourselves that we want to see others experience. 

For better or worse, we reproduce ourselves in the people and environments where we have influence, and the truth about influence is that everyone has it. So, to one degree or another, everybody is a leader! This holds true in businesses, ministry organizations, and in conversations between two friends. As much as you're willing to step into that role, you are a leader. 

As influencers we dream of cultures we want to see around us. We imagine and hope for things to happen a certain way, for the attitudes of our people to reflect healthy perspectives and motivations. It can be easy to look at where we are, and where we want to be, and to be discouraged because the gap between the two is bigger than we know how to handle. John Chew said, "More critical than the problem itself, is the way I see the problem". In other words, my hopeless attitudes and mindsets about a problem are a bigger problem than the problem! We are not victims in our circumstances and our surroundings, so allow me to offer some hope and say that you actually have tremendous influence on the people around you and the culture where you operate. So, the question is, what is a healthy and hopeful approach to creating the culture we want to see around us? Remember how this post started? "For better or worse, we reproduce ourselves..."? I believe this is a key to unlocking mindset-shifting truths into our spheres of influence. I think it's safe to say we're all pretty familiar with the "be the change" message. We've heard it for a long time. And while that message can be watered down to a cliché catch-phrase, at it's core, the truth of it remains.  We can talk about systems and structures, cast vision for the next big program we want to implement, or beg our volunteers to be on time every week, but until we're able to demonstrate and model the culture from within ourselves, there probably won't be much forward motion within our teams. 

The heart of this message is to live the values and principles that you desire to see around you. Complaining about problems you see is not fruitful and wastes your time (not to mention the negative attitudes it yields). We all want to be a part of a team that is growing in health and is motivated to see great things happen. So, what are some ways we can walk this out? Here are a couple things I've noticed that can be helpful in moving towards greater awareness in this area. 

 

BE MINDFUL OF YOURSELF-

It's pretty crucial that we can be honest with ourselves about the areas where we need to grow. Admitting that we aren't perfect is the only way to move forward, and when we can be transparent and real with our teams, it helps to create a culture where it's ok not only to be yourself, but also to take risk when it's appropriate, and yes, even to fail sometimes. Healthy cultures don't demand perfection from their teams, rather, they are environments that produce creative, problem-solving world changers who aren't afraid of failure. The take-away here is, if you can't be real with "you", you can't lead a group into honest relationships either. 

 

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELF-

We all have an inner reality. That inner world spills out into our lives every single day. When we lead or interact with others from those places inside us that are broken and hurting, it can easily cause more brokenness and hurt. It's definitely good to remember that every person on the planet comes from the same broken condition, so don't count yourself out as a leader because you've got issues! Ourselves and the people around us don't have to be victims of our "junk". The point is to be aware of those areas that need growth, and to not be afraid of them. God isn't, and the invitation to greater levels of freedom and wholeness is for us all.  This is a lifelong process and no one has it mastered, but every day is a new opportunity to step into more wholeness. 

 

BE INTENTIONAL

...about the culture you want to see on your team. Make a list! Write down your dream of what a healthy team looks like for you. I would suggest taking some time on this and being specific about what you want your team culture to look like in the short and long term. Once you've got that vision in front of you, you can start to develop those things in your own heart. If you wrote down "honest relationships", start going after that in your life right now with the people in your immediate circle. If you want a team culture that's not afraid to take risks, begin to develop that as a core principle for yourself. Obviously, this journey takes work. We have to be willing to say no to fear, and it can be a messy process, but for the sake of our teams and for ourselves, it's totally worth it. 

Thanks for reading. Leave a comment or suggest a future topic below! 

Next week we'll get more practical and talk about communication.

-Isaac

Leading Volunteers - Week 1

 

People > Systems

Finding the right people to partner with you in your ministry or organization is crucial to success. Not much happens without the dedication of a team of people who are willing to sacrifice resources like time and energy to get a job done. We should absolutely have great systems and structures in place to accomplish the things we want to see happen, but ultimately, it will always come back to people; who are the ones standing next to you who can catch a vision and will walk with you through hard seasons? 

Maybe you already have some things in mind when you imagine the "perfect volunteer." I would guess almost everyone would hope for attributes like dedication and humility in the people that serve next to them, and while we should look for positive character traits (maybe mostly just the willingness to grow), I want to focus more on how you as someone who leads teams of people actually have a huge impact on what you're getting out of the ones you lead. 

It's so important that we realize we can't ultimately control anyone, or make anyone do anything. Nobody likes a dictator! So, how do we get our teams motivated and actually get anything accomplished without resorting to manipulation, control or other nasty and un-healthy means? 

Over the next few weeks I'll post some key things I've found to be true when it comes to this topic. 

  • People Are Most Important - Systems have a role to play. Things like guidelines for being a part of the music team, or the ways we organize and delegate responsibility. The structures we put in place help us to go further and faster than we could otherwise. However, every structure we use should always be rooted in and built from a place of relationship. In other words, the systems we use don't work well (sometimes not at all) unless we are also pursuing healthy relationships with the people we work with. There have been times when I've personally struggled with how to find this balance. I've gone too far I think in both directions. Sometimes throwing out every guideline or structure we've put in place, mostly (If I'm brutally honest) because I'd rather not deal with confrontation -- shout out to sensitive creative types everywhere! On the other hand, it can also be a temptation to rely too heavily on these "guidelines" (sometimes read LAWS) we've put in place without any regard for the unique situation of every person. So, operating under the assumption that we need structure AND that people are important. How do we find balance? What does that look like? It looks like preferring the person over the system. It looks like demonstrating to your people that they have intrinsic value. That they are worth far more than any service or gift they can offer, or any work they can do. It looks like "I love you because I love you. Period." I believe these things allow structure to work in the best way possible. When you can relate to someone based on the foundation that they are valuable image-bearers of God, you are freed to see them and interact with them in a healthier way. Unfortunately (or not), I don't think there is much of a formula to apply when deciding whether to err on the side of structure vs. person. Every situation will be different, but I do think that if we can start from the place of seeing every person through the lens of valuable, we will be much closer to getting this right.

I would love to hear from you! Have you ever struggled with finding this balance? Experiences that you've learned from? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below. 

*NOTE - in order to leave comments, click on the TITLE at the top of the page. The comments section will then be at the bottom of the post. 

-Isaac

 

Introduction

Hey friends,

 Matt and I started this company with the idea that we could help churches and ministry organizations be successful. That we could help to provide creative solutions to problems that we all face. This blog is meant to be an extension of that. We both come from the church world and have experienced the successes and struggles that come with doing ministry in community. And, while we both realize that every situation and culture is different, it's also silly to reinvent the wheel with every new venture.

Our plan for now is to post once a week. We'll be sharing stories, advice and resources that we hope you'll find helping and inspiring. This will be a lot more fun and interesting if you leave feedback in the form of comments. Ask questions, suggest new topics, share your experiences! Your voice in the conversation will make all the difference.