Strengthen Your Job Skills by Volunteering

By Tony Thompsonvolunteer

Volunteer activities not only keep you active and involved, but they can also give you a chance to practice your workplace skills. Here’s how I exercised my technical team leadership skills when I became part of a volunteer team.

Last year, a non-profit organization that I am a member of was redesigning its web site. To start the project, our organization pulled together an ad hoc committee of eight people, led by a long-time board member, whom I’ll call Bill.

Bill was well known throughout the organization and well thought of by everyone. He assembled the team by asking every Information Technology (IT) savvy member he knew to join. The team included the current webmaster and the previous webmaster, who initially created the web site.

For nearly six months, the web site committee met once a week. Very little was accomplished. Near the end of the meetings, the current webmaster invited a friend of his to give a presentation to the committee, mainly to hawk his own services.

The webmaster’s friend had a business maintaining web sites for non-profits. We all listened politely. Later, Bill explained that we did not have the budget to pay for such a service. And, since we had to start preparing for the organization’s annual gala fundraiser, the web site effort went into hiatus for the next three months.

Dutifully, I attended many of the web site team’s meetings, mostly just observing. I know a lot about application software and software projects, but had not done any extensive web site development. From my observations, the lack of progress we made on the web site redesign project occurred for three reasons:

1)      Bill was the perfect person to assemble the team, but, not, in my opinion, the right person to lead it. He didn’t know much about web site development, and was too deferential to the technical “experts”

2)      The entire team was too passive whenever they were around the organization’s Director; in a way, she became our customer. Occasionally, when she attended meetings, whatever she happened to be interested in became the focus of the team for the next few weeks.

3)      There was an unacknowledged tension between the current and the previous webmaster. This was possibly exacerbated by the Director being fairly new. She only knew the current (younger) webmaster.

Again, using my technical team leadership skills, here’s what I had to do to move things forward and get the project moving again.

During the hiatus, I approached Bill and asked him to let me run the meetings when the web site redesign resumed, and he agreed. I got along great with Bill, in truth, everybody did.

For the first couple of meetings, Bill feigned excuses for being absent and delegated running the meeting to me. I was encouraged that only two people dropped off the team when we restarted.

I told the team that we had been somewhat unfocused previously; it was as if we were “remodeling a house and spending too much time selecting the curtains.” I think everyone understood what I meant.

We all went over our goals for the redesign, which were to attract new members, keep the event calendars up-to-date, and allow people, besides the webmaster, to make timely content updates.

At that first resumed meeting, I asked the current webmaster if he could put together a plan to move us forward. Behind the scenes, I asked Bill to give him a call to further gauge his commitment to the project.

At the next meeting, the current webmaster brought his project plan, perhaps a little too techie, but it was a start. On the fly, I mapped his plan into three sub teams: design, content, and administration. Design would be led by the current webmaster, content by the previous webmaster, administration by Bill and me. Everyone concurred with this arrangement.

Moving forward, I used an agenda that simply asked each sub team for status and worked out a schedule for completing action items. Along the way, the team decided to meet in-person every two weeks, then, via conference call.

In three months, we had an improved, redesigned web site, thanks to everyone on the team.

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