It’s Just Messy…

We have a local group called Kaleid (short for kaleidoscope) that works to unite ministries, mission organizations and the Church (the big C church).  During our meeting on Monday night, we had an extended discussion about how to keep your ministry team together and strategies to avoid division and problems. 

  green star

I know first hand that managing people is always complicated and often messy.  No matter how homogeneous your group, it’s still comprised of individual people with unique personalities, goals and expectations.  To add to the mix is the fact that these folks are volunteers.  No money or boss to pen you in.  This can be an environment where everyone has an opinion and they are truly convinced that their way is the best way.  A leadership nightmare.  Division in a volunteer environment is a real shame.  The goal gets tarnished.  It’s a cancer that can destroy the beauty of an effort to do some real good.

So what do you do?  You can’t let division ruin your work.  You have to lead.  Inevitably, some people won’t be happy.  You need to provide order and direction.  You can’t have everyone doing their own thing- it would be chaos.

Here are six keys to help steer through these waters:

Clear Goals/Direction:  Make sure that you clearly communicate your goals for the project and the plan to get there.  One trick you can use to make sure that they “get it” is to ask them to repeat your direction.  A head nod doesn’t always equate to understanding.

Humility and Sensitivity:  Volunteers will not tolerate a leader that is full of themselves or a tyrant.  You will look around and quickly be all alone. If you are used to being “The General” at work or home, leading a group of volunteers may be challenge for you.  You must lead with a tender heart and be sensitive to the needs of your group.   

Collaborate:  Seems like the buzzword today is collaboration.  Involving others to help provide engagement to the team and join them together for a common goal.  Sounds good, right?  Yet this can also be a disaster.  You must be skilled in how you manage the collaboration meeting.  Tell the group that this is not “decision by committee”.  You will retain the final decision but you want and need their input.  Let everyone talk but do not let anyone dominate the discussion.  Cut them off, politely, if they try to take over.  Use as much reasonable input from the meeting as possible.  Manage the folks that are sore if you don’t use their ideas.  Get the group buy-in.  It‘s critical.

Skillfully Allocate:  Take great care in dividing up roles, tasks, and resources.  Key in on gifts and passions.  Be on the lookout for overload.  Some folks have a hard time saying no.  Try to level out things as best as you can.

Feedback:  Provide a mechanism for feedback.  An e-mail address is a great way- comments@…  Most people won’t complain to your face, but will unload on an anonymous site.  I have received some great criticism this way.  Also, look for the discontented person- the grumbler.  Go ahead and approach them and hear them out.  Be aware that you may not be able to make everyone happy.  Do your best and let God do the rest.  The tension that the person is having may be God working in them.  Don’t always short circuit the struggle.

Have Fun:  If you are having fun while you are serving, it will help to deflate any tension that arises.  This may be very difficult sometimes.  Some efforts are really tough or emotionally draining.  If the work is exceptionally difficult, then your focus should shift to building a strong bond between the volunteers.  If you can build strong camaraderie, you will help to bridge the difficulty of the work.  Having a fun and rewarding experience will replace the inherent need for the exchange of a payment.  Make it fun and chatter will disappear.

Leading volunteers can be tricky.  Although similar in complexity, I would argue that it is more difficult than managing paid employees.  It’s unlikely that you will be able to make everyone happy.  However, leading with your heart is the key to keeping your group cohesive and effective!

What do you think?  Don’t be a stealth reader!  Click on comments and tell me what you think! 

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About Joe Passkiewicz

Joe Passkiewicz is Vice President of LandSouth Construction and Lead Contributor of Leading By Serving, Leadership is for Everyone.

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