The Top 10 ways to build a sustainable volunteer tech team

Building a great tech team is hard work, but sustaining it can be an even bigger challenge for many organizations. Burnout and stress can fracture a team. And when one team member calls it quits, it puts pressure on the rest of team who have to pick up the slack. Avoid burning out your crew or setting them up to fail by considering the following recommendations:

• Share the Vision – Share your vision of what you would like the tech ministry to look like in the future. Visualize the future state that you and your team are working towards. Paint a picture for them, one where technology and craftspeople work together in harmony to support the ministry’s mission and vision. Understanding and sharing this vision effectively empowers your team to make independent decisions that align with it. Think of your vision as a North Star that will guide your team when circumstances hinder them from moving forward in the usual ways.

• Divide and conquer the Workflow – The best way to ensure the success of your volunteers is to build technical systems specifically for the jobs the team is trying to do. Many TD’s are used to performing multiple roles on a production and are comfortable with complex systems that are flexible enough to handle any situation. Don’t expect this from your volunteers. The “ultimate flexibility” approach is not always a strategy for success. Instead, break technical jobs into manageable pieces that a volunteer can successfully handle, both in terms of time commitment and skill level.

• Design meaningful Jobs – Every job should come with an explanation of why that job is important enough to deserve a team member’s attention.  If you can’t come up with a reasonable ‘why’, get rid of the job or automate it. Your team members want to make a meaningful contribution to their community. It’s your job to ensure they find meaning in their work. That way, they’ll find satisfaction in their volunteer efforts.

Define each Job – What is the job, and what does success look like? These key questions need to be articulated for every job. Write a description of success, and take the time to clarify the job’s procedures. List the cues and triggers for each part of the job. Who will be giving direction, and who do they need to direct? Get their feedback on the job. How could you make it easier? What needs clarification? Dial in the technology until just about anyone could do the job by following the procedure.

• Establish their Value – How do you motivate and manage a team that’s not on the payroll? Sometimes you have to stretch beyond the typical techniques you’d use to manage and motivate a paid team. When people volunteer, they are investing their time and attention (human equity) into the ministry and vision of your community.  According to Forbes, (http://onforb.es/1eKzu1L)  a number of motivations drive people to do their best. These include earning the trust of leadership, feeling relevant and recognized, proving others wrong, advancement, belief, understanding their impact, and the joy and satisfaction that comes from doing a job well. So: encourage your team. Thank them. Show them you value them.

• Prioritize Skill Development  – aka Train, Mentor & Coach. Training: Take time to train them on their job. Create opportunities for them to practice it before they go live. Mentoring: Assign a mentor, someone who’s great at the job they’re learning; that way the novices can ask questions and learn from those who have gone before. Coaching: Consider staffing all positions and observing the performance of your team. Coach them by taking notice of their wins, close calls and fails. Then privately encourage them with tips to take their game to the next level.

• Offer Ownership – After empowering them with your shared vision, encourage your team to think out of the box and exercise their creativity. Give them a safe place to fail. Make sure there is an opportunity to test their new approach before showtime and get feedback from the team. Everything should be tested and affirmed by the team before it gets implemented. Celebrate both the wins and the fails. If some of it is not weird, it’s probably not far enough out of the box. Get your crazy on!

• Practice with Them – Sunday morning is not the time to practice your craft. Provide them with the opportunity to run though the service, make errors and then make the necessary corrections. If corrections are needed, run it again. The goal is not perfection. The goal is to be able to run the service with plenty of margin to handle the unexpected. We practice so that when gear fails, the worship leader drops into an unexpected song, or the pastor calls out a passage that is not in the deck. We’ll know what to do, and we’ll handle it. No one will notice that something unexpected came our way.

• Manage Commitments – Again, volunteers are trading their personal and family time to invest in the ministry. Be sure to establish a mutual understanding of their availability and time commitments. I prefer to schedule team members for less time than they are willing to commit. Check in regularly. There may be other conditions in their work or personal lives that are contributing to burnout. Cross-train your team so you can always get the job done if someone needs to bow out.

  • Have their back – They buck stops with you. It’s up to you to train them, to exercise them, to coach them, and to build manageable systems for them to use. Something inevitably will go wrong. Never blame a volunteer for a fail. Have their back, understand what went wrong and work with them to address the issue going forward. It may need practice, a change in procedure or a change in equipment. After all, you would not have put them in that position unless you believed they could do it, right?
  • Be in Relationship – Create community around your tech and creative teams. Create occasions to feed them, play with them and pray with them. As you do life together, and celebrate their contributions, their creative risks, and the impact they’re having on the larger community, you will bond. You will become a team, and you will see your vision of the future unfold before your very eyes.

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