Published: 7 months ago

Specialist or Generalist?

There’s a bit of a debate in guest services nerd circles about whether our team members should serve as specialists or generalists. Put another way, should volunteers have one role where they serve, or should they be able to serve in multiple different areas?

How you answer this question will determine how you recruit your volunteers, how you train your volunteers, and how you schedule your volunteers. Let me lay out a case for each:


The case for a generalist:

Generalists are great utility players. Need someone to serve on parking? A generalist can do that. Need to bump ’em onto the seating team? No problem. A generalist has you covered.

Generalists cover your gaps. The reason for need in the previous bullet point is that you’re going to have people who just don’t show up. If you have a team of generalists, you can mix and match to your heart’s content and be juuuust fine.

Being a generalist may keep the job fresh. If a volunteer gets bored serving at the first-time guest tent, well…that’s not a problem. They can switch over to the set up team or pull a stint on the sidewalk team.


The case for a specialist:

Specialists bring a sense of “home” to the guest. Even if your guests don’t know the names of your volunteers, seeing the same person at the same door week after week gives the guest a feeling of familiarity.

Specialists can hone their skills. After someone has been in their role for a few months or a few years, they know every in and out, every worst-case scenario, and every backup plan. (On the flip side, they can also get stagnant in doing it “their way.”

Specialists benefit from targeted training. If you run ongoing training for your team, it’s easier to narrow the focus to match what they do. No need to waste a tear-down team member’s time with information that only benefits seaters.

Specialists help you see where your gaps are. If you’re always covering your gaps with generalists, it may mask the fact that you need more volunteers. Keeping parking team members on the parking team will unveil where the holes on the parking team (or seating team, or…) are.


How do you manage the generalist / specialist conundrum?


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  1. West says:

    We are currently are structured as Specialists. I’d love to know how those deploying Generalists manage scheduling for their teams. We currently use a combination of Church Teams database software and an excel file/google doc depending on what team (greeters, ushers, safety team, etc) leader is overseeing that team. We’re interested in moving toward a more generalist direction to give volunteers new inspiration & refresh our vision that First Impressions is ONE team, but we’re struggling to find a way forward with scheduling that is not a nightmare to manage week to week. Thoughts?

    • Danny says:

      Out of all of the vol scheduling software I’ve heard of, Planning Center Online gets the highest reviews from end users. Since we apply “attend one, serve one,” we don’t use a schedule, so I’m not much help here.

      Hopefully someone else can weigh in on this!

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