Think about all the good work that happens through volunteer teams.
Community groups, school committees, athletic associations, church committees, professional associations, clubs, boards, and commissions are but a few of the teams typically comprised of volunteers.
They all have important missions. They all need to accomplish real work to be successful.
When volunteers go bad
And just like project teams at work, sometimes these groups bog down. There are many sources of trouble. Often, the commonly-held view is that one or more people are preventing the group from reaching its goals.
Regardless if the person lacks skill, effort, or the right temperament; this is a touchy situation. If you confront the volunteer, the organization risks losing an active member. If you let the problem go unresolved, you risk losing the other team members who are certain they know who is causing the problem. They also aren’t willing to address it with that person.
It could have been prevented
Sadly, this situation could have been prevented by following a simple procedure. Whenever you create a new team (volunteer or paid), decide first what knowledge, skills, and abilities you need. Create a high-level job description for each position. Finally, check the qualifications of the volunteers prior to selecting them to the team.
This is hard to do because volunteers can be scarce. While that may be, taking the wrong people doesn’t help anyone.
Turn it around
If it’s already too late for that, here are three ideas that may help.
- Refocus. Most projects involve a wide range of tasks, each requiring a unique set of skills. Perhaps the person is not suited for one set of tasks. Are there other tasks the team needs doing that might be a better fit for the person? If so, guide the person into those tasks.
- Discuss skills. As a group, sit down and identify the specific skills needed to be a success. Decide if it is important or not to have experienced people in each role. Through this discussion it may become more obvious that the person is not cut out for this team.
- Honest conversation. The team leader or another member of the team can offer this person the observation about how he or she is performing . Team members need to be honest and straight-forward about what they expect of each other. This conversation can be difficult, but is usually the strategy that most likely will create the results you need.
Can you fire them?
What happens if you’ve tried all that and the person who is creating the problem doesn’t see it your way (odds are he or she won’t) or just is not willing to step down from the team. Can you fire this person?
My answer is yes. It won’t be easy and certainly won’t be comfortable. Still, this might be the only viable option. Most committees have some sort of formal structure. There’s a chair or leader. There are rules or bylaws. You can and should consider removing a person who isn’t a good fit or doesn’t want to make the necessary changes to be a better contributor.
Before going down this path, blaming a team’s trouble on a person is the easy way out. While it might be accurate, often the source of the problem is just as likely a lack of clarity about mission, goals, roles, responsibilities, processes, and expectations. Be sure you’ve correctly diagnosed the problem.
Need some help?
If your group needs help sorting through some of its difficulty, I am happy to help. I’ll interview members to get to the bottom of things and recommend actions you can take to make them better. If a person is the problem, I can act as a coach. If it’s other issues, I’ll work with you to lead the team through its challenges.
Image credit: USWFS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr (cc)