Are Your Volunteers Too Habitual?
I’m currently reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, an excellent book that combines research and remarkable stories to get to the bottom of why we do what we do.
Early in the book Duhigg recounts an experiment where scientists were studying the basil ganglia – a deep-center portion of our brains suspected to power many of our habits.
In the study, researchers measured brainwaves of rats as they performed certain routines. As the rat encountered new environments, the basil ganglia lit up with activity. But as the rat learned the new environment – in other words, became accustomed to it and habitualized it – its mental activity decreased. “As the route became more and more automatic, each rat started thinking less and less…[t]he basil ganglia, in other words, stored habits even while the rest of the brain went to sleep.”
I’m not saying that reading about rats made me think of church volunteers (I’m also not not saying it), but here’s my takeaway:
Have our systems and processes (our habits) caused the rest of our vols’ brains to go to sleep?
I wrote about this several years ago when I recounted a story of fast food workers who had become mentally lazy by over-relying on the highly researched food prep charts in the kitchen.
Muscle memory (or habits) can be a good or a bad thing…it all depends on how we use it.
If your volunteer stands behind policy rather than listening to the person in front of them, that’s a bad thing.
If your volunteer is afraid to answer a basic question because they’re afraid of getting it wrong, that’s a bad thing.
If your volunteer always has to hand a decision up the chain of command, that’s a bad thing.
If your volunteer is more afraid of being criticized for their creative thinking rather than being praised for it, that’s a bad thing.
Today, take a quick look at one particular process that your team uses. Is it so scripted, so designed, so planned-out that it robs your volunteers of their creativity? Are you moving them through a system and keeping them from relying on the Spirit? Are you focusing them on task and keeping them from touch?
Let’s add the humanity back into our systems. Anything less, and we’re just running rats through a maze.