When a Volunteer Manager manages Volunteer Managers

The title’s a tongue twister, but this volunteer administrator is clear on what keeps a team working together.

building-a-team-volunteer-managers-twenty-hatsIf someone took all of my blog posts and analyzed them for content, no doubt a good 80% have to do with two out of the three directions required for leadership  – influencing upwards and achieving buy-in laterally from co-workers.

Those skills are essential for our profession because we spend so much time educating others about the what, why, and how of engaging volunteers in a meaningful way.

But what about that third direction? – what about the downward management that’s essential to keeping an entire department running smoothly?

When you direct a large volunteer program and supervise others, your ability to lead your direct reports matters just as much as your ability to lead volunteers. (and maybe more.)

Teri McCormick Hinton knows this, and she’s proud of the close, collaborative culture that she’s created among her volunteer specialists.

Teri is the Regional Volunteer Services Officer for the National Capital Region of the American Red Cross. Her 20+ years in the Red Cross and her commitment to the organization helped her get up to speed quickly when she shifted from a staff position at national headquarters to volunteer services in 2012.

“My goal is to foster interaction among my team members,” Teri commented, and for good reason. The staff of four and a volunteer team of 10 recruits, screens, and refers up to 100 volunteers every month to 3 divisions and several support services in the region. Poor coordination would bog down an essential function for a large and complex organization with a mission to “mobilize the power of volunteers.”

For Teri, there are three principles that guide her team leadership:

1.  She includes the team in key decisions.

Right now there is a fourth slot on the Volunteer Services team that needs to be filled, and rather than hire that fourth person by herself, Teri has included the three team members in the interview process. Everyone participates in candidate interviews, and team members have the option of contributing their own interview questions.

Most important, every member of the team is encouraged to voice their opinions – even if there is disagreement.  “I believe that they all feel comfortable sharing their differing opinions on the skills and experience needed for the position,” says Teri.

2. They share ownership of staff meetings.

Earlier this year, Teri decided to ramp up the team’s engagement by putting responsibility for the weekly staff meetings into their own hands. Now, every week, a different team member is responsible for setting the agenda, running the meeting, and following up on action steps or commitments made at the meeting. If a meeting runs too long or too short, it’s up to the team members to communicate that to one another. They revisit things if they are not working.

3. The team divides its workload according to individual strengths.

Rather than allocate team members to fixed positions dictated by an org chart, Teri assigns responsibilities based on the strengths of each individual team member.

As a result, the team member who establishes rapport easily takes care of recruiting and screening volunteers. Another member with a talent for strategy attends to the department’s long range planning. A third team member with an interest in program management oversees recruitment of volunteer managers for the critical Homes Fires Initiative.

And one last thing… Teri makes close communication a priority.

“We all took the assessment from the Gallup Strengths Center. The experience helped us build an even greater understanding of one another. It’s also helped us figure out the best ways to communicate with one another. For example, reading between the lines is not one of my strengths. My staff has learned to be explicit with me if they think I need to know something.”

“There is a measure of happiness in this workplace.” “My team is in constant communication. They are always messaging one another. And I’m comfortable not being a part of those conversations –  I know they are communicating so closely to get the work done.”

“It’s a great team.”

2 Comments

  • I enjoyed reading Teri’s story. I really loved the 3 tips and will keep them in mind as I craft next years goals for working with our volunteer managers. Thanks!

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