The Four Keys of Potent Volunteer Teams

Why is it that some church volunteer teams “just get it” and/or are more effective than others? If you’ve been involved with church volunteerism, chances are you’ve observed or even been a part of these super teams from time to time. But what makes them super? What separates them from other teams? And how do you reproduce teams like these?

If you’re like me, I would have ascribed it to “the perfect mix” or “a strong leader” or something other that was dependent upon having an all-star member of the team to help the others rise to the occasion. I’ve had enough experience now to identify strong, capable leaders pretty quickly. In some way, they’ll stand out to me in a crowd and I’ll try to get these all-stars to head up a dynamic team. But what happens when you’re in a room full of volunteers and you don’t see enough of these “all-stars”? What if the go-to people are seemingly absent (or vocal/animated enough)?

In re-reading Jim Collins’ opus Great by Choice, the chapter on four keys of managers spotlighted the truth I was missing. When you’re looking for a 10, you’re passing right over the 9′s, 8′s, 7′s and so on.

When it comes to setting up volunteer teams, we look for strong traits. We think: “He’s experienced,“she’s intelligent” or, “she’s got determination.”

Instead of defining people by traits, we should focus on talent.

Marcus Buckingham, former Global Practice Leader with Gallup, defines talent this way: “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.” If you’re looking, you’ll see talent in a lot of ordinary people every day. The guy at the grocery store who always seems to have his checkout line move faster than others, while somehow managing to still have more smiling customers; the teacher your kids love AND respect who pulls more out of them than their other teachers; the new staff member who builds relationships across departments effortlessly and brings convergent ideas together. These people are working in their sweet spot with their talent functioning fully and naturally.

And yet, talent alone is not enough. I recently talked about a very talented musician who had a conversation with a campus pastor friend of mine where the talented musician needed a dose of humility before his talent could be utilized in a healthy way (see “The Parable of the Talented”).

The most talented individuals can still have team failure if they’re not all given the same direction with clearly understood guidelines and expectations. Talented teams will take the initiative while clearly understanding the parameters and finding ways to achieve the right outcomes.

The best volunteer teams excel when the expectations are set by defining the right outcomes, not the right steps.

It’s also very helpful to know each volunteer′s top strengths. I am a fan of Strengths Finder 2.0 for helping people discover these strengths. Volunteer teams should be about combining the right mix of talents and strengths, not about filling roles with warm bodies.

Motivating teams is much, much easier when you motivate them in their strengths, not their weaknesses.

Realizing you can’t make a someone a ’10′ in an area where they’re a ’4′ doesn’t mean you pass over that person; you simply find where they’re a ’10,′ set them up for success and watch them shine! Too often we have under-performers or downright unhappy volunteers because they’re not serving in their strengths.

Developing healthy volunteers means helping them find their right fit in where and how they serve.

These four keys are a great litmus test to review your current volunteer teams. I’ll bet you’ll find more than a few volunteers who would be thrilled to have you give them a chance to start fresh all over again!  

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Anthony Coppedge
Anthony has worked in the secular world of A/V, the ministry world of church staff and the para-church ministry of three companies that serve the church space (Auxano, Fellowship Technologies and Worlds of Wow!). Today, his consultancy focuses on helping churches and para-church ministries leverage appropriate systems, processes and technologies for more effective ministry. Anthony leads out of his strengths of effectively caring for people, efficiently managing resources and enabling scalable growth. He has been consulting, teaching, writing and speaking to church and business leaders for nearly 20 years.