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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Volunteer Team Members on Your Project?


Have you ever run a project that is solely or mostly running on a project team of volunteers? I was presenting to a group of program directors in the research field. Their dilemma is that they manage projects which have team members fully run by volunteer researchers from other organizations.

After comforting them that they are not the only people in the world that run projects fully dependent on volunteers, but rather they are part of the millions of teachers, religious groups, social service groups, civil rights, good citizens, and dozens of professionals who donate their time and expertise for the good cause of the World .. they became more relaxed.

So back to their challenge... How to get a volunteer - someone who is not paid, not officially or legally bound, not under your authority or control - to do their part on the project as a team member?

Answer is simple: Motivate and ensure the value they are interested in by doing this good will is present and did not disappear.

I have managed and coordinated tons of projects such as the one we are talking about. I also participated in tons where I was a team member. Bottom line --- as long as there is volunteer value. They will not only stick around, but will produce exceptional value... let it evaporate and before you know, they are all gone.

Example: Project X: Goal is to initiate, launch, implement and supervise a series of monthly community dinner at a Muslim community. Volunteers who are interested in being part of this project will most probably join for one or more of the following reasons,

a) they like food, food events, cooking, or have some passion to food
b) they like social gathering and chatting with others, like to be part of a group, or big family
c) they respect organization and like to see these events well organized and a god experience for every one
d) they just want to help out a community they belong to and enjoy being part of

So as a project manager, you know that all these volunteers are not getting paid, have very limited time, might live far away, but are interested in helping out, because they told you. As long as those 4 items above are maintained, they will keep coming. Now when something happens and for example these volunteers are no longer allowed to cook and bring in their own meals to share with others... they will not come because point a) is not longer available. Or if they feel that participants dont get along together and some tensions arise then they will stop again because point b) is no longer available... and so on.. you get the point.

So in a nutshell project manager need to have strong emotional intelligence skills and keep their eyes and ears open to what the volunteer team members are interested in and how much of it is on their projects.

Back to the volunteer researchers from all across the country that are on Bob's project (not real name). As long as the researcher's can add their work to their tenure requirements, paper portfolio, get academic recognition, be known as a participant, be respected for their knowledge and ideas, be able to have open communications with other scientists..... they should stick around.

Successful teams develop because they strive for the carrot, regardless what form the carrot takes.

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