How to Lead a Grandfathered-In Volunteer Team
Now that you’re gonna be a grandfather, do you plan on making these types of puns in future post titles?
[Suddenly-disgruntled blog reader, Monowi, Nebraska]
(And please, call me “Pops.” Grandfather was my grandfather.)
What do you do when you inherit a volunteer team you didn’t recruit? What happens when your vision and the team’s history don’t mesh? And what are the consequences if you change direction and your team adopts a “not invented here” mindset?
Most of us will find ourselves in this situation at some point or another. Whether you’re new to your church or simply in a new role on your staff team, you will eventually lead people that you didn’t hand-pick.
Here are a few principles to live by:
1. Lead with humility.
Repeat after me, leader: we don’t know what we don’t know. And we will do a grave disservice to the ministry and our volunteers if we charge in thinking we have all the answers. So before you make a change, make an observation. Ask some questions. Dig into the mindset behind the current normal. Receive feedback and pushback. And most importantly, be willing to be wrong.
2. One cup of coffee at a time.
You’ll never lead a team effectively if there’s not mutual trust, and there’ll never be mutual trust if your team doesn’t know each other. So get to know each other. Set up one-on-ones with key leaders, new team members, and those vols are on the verge of stepping away. And do it with no agenda other than getting to know them.
3. Honor the history while looking forward.
We must realize that regardless of the team health or lack of team health that we inherited, we always stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. So as we observe, ask questions, and get to know our new teammates (see #1 and 2 above), we should look for those historical artifacts that are worthy of praise and honor. And we should look for ways to keep some of those things if at all possible.
4. Invite them to a time frame, then give them an out.
Early in my role here, I inherited a small group of guys who were going to fall under the umbrella of our brand new First Impressions Team. Because I had been on staff a while and we knew each other, there was already some semblance of trust. But still, what I was proposing was going to be a far stretch from what they’d been doing.
So we met. I shared the vision, and asked them to give me three months serving in the “new normal.” I told them I wanted them to be a part of the team, but I realized this new team wasn’t what they’d originally signed up for. And to their credit, all of them gave me that time frame, and then a few of them decided that they’d rather serve somewhere else.
The point? They had time to see the new process and decide if they wanted in. And once they were out, we were still friends and they were still great volunteers…just not on my team. But it was by their choice.
5. Move with the movers.
Once we’ve done all things above s-l-o-w-l-y, it’s time to pull the trigger and move forward. Yes, we continue to assess the vision to see if it’s working. Yes, we continue to receive feedback and pivot when it’s appropriate. But we must begin the process of leading the team, and cheerlead those who are ready to move forward.
Looking for more?
These previous posts may help shed some more light on how to lead a team you didn’t pick:
- “I Didn’t Sign Up For This.”
- “We’ve Never Done it That Way Before.”
- The Two Things You Must Do Before You Fire a Volunteer