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Are you leading a team or a group?

Many organizations, particularly not-for-profits that rely on volunteers, can have a tendency to want to place everyone on the “same team”.  The assumption is that they’re all somehow one big family equally invested in the same mission. It can even sound like vision. The language of team sometimes works to make people feel included and attempts to create an aura of general “ownership” or a collective corporate support.   But are they really on a team?

Sometimes we say we’re leading a team, when what we’re actually doing is nurturing or facilitating a group.  Maybe a group of people with relational connections surrounded by some common interest or activity, but a group none the less.  These individuals might show up and participate in some activity when it’s convenient and when it doesn’t interfere with “more important” opportunities – because, well, they’re kind and like to help out once and a while.

The reality is that unless there is either a transactional relationship involving compensstion, or some deeply held conviction to the mission or cause, there should be no reason to expect anyone to show up consistently.  And when we depend on teams of volunteers to repeatedly execute important recurring tasks, the wrong motivation can lead to recurring dilemmas.

Prospecting for a volunteer team is much different than recruiting a volunteer to show up one time to perform a task.

A team, by definition, generally has some specific characteristics.

team is defined as a group of people who perform interdependent tasks to work toward accomplishing a common mission or specific objective. Some teams have a limited life: for example, a design team developing a new product, or a continuous process improvement team organized to solve a particular problem.

https://asq.org › quality-resources › teams

The collective goal, is the advancement of a common mission (i.e. moving a ball down the field, or winning the game or games). Genuine ongoing commitment primarily comes from the passion for the mission, not necessarily the enjoyment of participating, the relational bonding, or even compensation.

Spectators, the fans who come and support their favorite ball club, can certainly view themselves as part of “the team” or family connected by a brand.  But they are not interdependent contributors to the game the way the players on the field are.  Fans and other stakeholders are under no obligation or expectation to show up, buy tickets, or even view a particular game.

But most importantly, what separates a team member from a spectator or relational participant in a group, is that team members have to show up in order for the game to play, and they must selflessly participate as needed to advance the mission. They feel concern and responsibility when the mission is not cared for.

-Gary Yonek

Two primary elements in a functioning team is that participants must have some level of interdependent contribution combined with a desire, ability, and commitment to show up consistently. (The greatest ability is availability.)

When developing an actual team of volunteers, one primary goal of the leader is to ignite a passion – not for a specific skill or connection with others, but a passion for the mission and greater purpose for which they are serving. Something bigger than themselves.  High capacity volunteers will sacrifice time and prioritize their effort, even without financial compensation, if they are firmly bought into the long term “why” and possess an authentic sense of purpose.  They are also more likely to continue when things get hard or frustrating, when the procedure or leaders change, or when they get bored or distracted for a season.  They must internalize the vision and personally believe that what they do actually matters. This passion (having an undying belief in a cause) can not be developed with a snappy catch phrase or quick recruitment pitch over coffee. The key to a successful, healthy, and functional volunteer team is to place the right people in the right roles for the right reasons.  Otherwise, what you often end up with is little more than a group of names on a list of those who may occasionally help to pitch in only if and when they’re available or are in need for some type of community.

  • Does your volunteer team really understand the “why” of what they’re contributing to? And do they visualize how it fits in to a long term mission of your organization?
  • As a leader can you accurately and passionately explain why your team exists and who benefits from your collective efforts? 
  • Do you regularly revisit the purpose with each team member individually as well as communicate with the team collectively to help neutralize mission drift and vision leak?

Prospecting and developing high capacity volunteers is not cheap. It takes an intentional and ongoing investment of time, energy and financial resources – in addition to building trustworthy relationships along the way.

Nothing new under the sun…

I can remember when a gallon of gas spiked to $0.86/ gal in 1979.

The US was outraged. We limited highway speeds to 55 mph, were going to move to smaller more efficient cars, were so determined to become “independent” of foreign oil with off shore drilling and an Alaskan pipeline (which did create some really good jobs for a while).

Billboard on our farm in Milan, Ohio. 1979

Yeah, seems like that lasted about 3 years. Then, despite inflation and high interest rates, the 80s kicked in with exuberant spending and credit debt, totally squashing those fuel concerns.  This is the US. We love cheap gas, big SUVs, trucks, RVs, and personal vehicles like ATVs, motorcycles planes & boats. Somehow we’re entitled. We’ve always valued these things way more than having the collective will to do what’s necessary to become independent.

Same old, same old. (And no one’s saying that importing 600,000 barrels/day of sand tar through a new pipe from the country of Canada is will somehow be cheaper.)

The US has had 40 years to become independent of foreign petroleum, just not the motivation, the domestic resources, and will to do so. This is the USA. We love cheap gas pretty much more than anything else in the world – no matter where it comes from.

Part 3 “Media” and the Loss of the Hero

Many often blame “the media” for almost everything that’s “wrong”. By definition the word media is simply plural for the word medium. For example written text on paper is a medium, chalk on a sidewalk can be a medium, radio broadcast is a medium, tires on a car and a glove on a hand are media. You and I can be the medium by which COVID-19 can exist and spread. Today however, what many attribute to “the media” is actually just news or the press in general and, more specifically, any information that doesn’t align with one’s personal convictions. Blaming “the media” is kind of like blaming your mistakes, poor choices, or unfortunate circumstances on a hair dryer, a snow shovel, or a piece of wallpaper.

What’s more interesting culturally is our apparent attraction and fascination with individuals who appear to have narcissistic personalities. They actually thrive in this environment. And strangely, large numbers of seemingly intelligent, otherwise kind people can so easily rally around an individual then excuse, and even defend the most rude and vile behaviors and expressions, without rational thought or serious consideration. And it’s not just with the current president. It’s also sports and entertainment celebrities, politicians and preachers. We complain, yet we reward. How diametrically different from 20 years ago when a “hero” had to earn or accomplish something meaningful before becoming a celebrity. We often support our favorite celebrities with the same blind and fervent loyalty as a local football team, regardless of whether they are successful at winning or accomplishing anything notable or selfless. Any actual accomplishment of the hero becomes questionable and is eclipsed by the continuous over-exposure or “fake it till you make it approach” of the celebrity.

The radical advance and speed of electronic technologies have contributed to the replacement of “hero” with “celebrity”. It seems narcissists thrive in our culture today because developing a brand and loyalty is the only way to acquire broad appeal in a short amount of time. Facts and content are no longer primary influences and thus no longer automatically serve as a substantially effective means of persuasion. Often facts and information are irrelevant. Fabricating controversy and dismissing all external thought as “hoax” or “fake news” seems to be the emotional currency of the day. And social media provides a powerful global platform to foster that process. It’s ironic that as our historically unprecedented, widely and equally accessible level of “free speech” gets pushed more to it’s over saturated limits, much content becomes suspect, and all thought and ideas get randomly mixed together to create one pot of overwhelmingly irrelevant noise …resulting in, well, less free speech. Such is the post modern era.

How diametrically different from 20 years ago when a “hero” had to earn or accomplish something meaningful before becoming a celebrity.

It seems that so much of the perplexing and seemingly obscure ideas that Philosipher Marshall McLuhan wrote about in the 60s and 70s regarding media theory, communications, and technologies is literally unfolding in this decade and started becoming visible around 2005. Why?

Now thru the lens of history we can get a glimpse of what he was getting at when he coined the phrase:

“The medium is the message”. For a more in depth look at media and effects from McLuhan’s 1964 writings.

Part 2: What is the “media” ?

There’s lots of buzz about “the media” these days.  Americans seem to blame it for many things that may nor may not go their way.  For example “the media” gets blamed for liberal bias or right-wing conspiracies.  Our president blames the “the media” for not being fair or flattering and others blame “the media” for being too lax on abortion or personal rights.  It’s as if somehow “the media” has a bias or agenda. Some think “The media” somehow manipulates us into purchasing things or changing our behavior via advertising, marketing, or public relations. We even gravitate to whichever voice validates our own beliefs in exclusion to other’s “media”. But what is media and what does it really do?

Often, when we speak of “the media”, what we are actually referring to news reporting (journalism)  or un-moderated opinion posting on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. And although electronic media is what most of us currently think of in today’s information explosion, it’s really much more.  The term is actually the plural of the word medium (singular).

One of the most powerful and revolutionary definitions of media that I’ve discovered comes from the 1960s writings of Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan writes “Every medium is an extension of our humanity.”

Under this definition, literally everything is a medium, And it provides a powerful lens by which to assess and evaluate our culture and surroundings. For example the telephone is an extension of our voice and ears, the wheel is an extension of our feet (regarding transportation), clothing is an extension of our skin, security cameras are an extension of our eyes, a tv remote is an extension of our finger etc.

Ok, so the “media” is not really a singular thing or entity, so what? Why is this important to understanding our current culture?

 

Memories of a childhood dream

Mostly self taught, I did take a few guitar lessons at Lombardy Music store around the 4th grade I seem to recall.  My teacher was Donny Leitzke who happened to be a next door neighbor in Milan, Ohio. Man, the guy could play.  I watched the Monkey’s on TV, then later Don Kirshner Rock Concerts and Midnight Specials. (I also vaguely recall the Beatles on Ed Sullivan but was a little young to have had any profound impact.) Those were magical times.

Basement band started with friend Les who played drums. No PA, I had a guitar/ amp. We needed a bass player. No one old enough to drive. We would play Jumping Jack Flash for hours. Moms would drive us and our gear to Les’ basement in winter or our barn in summer. I recall plugging in a cheap pair of radio shack headphones to the output of a 200 watt Kustom guitar amp so I could better hear over Les’ drums. It worked nice for about a 45 seconds after which a hole literally melted through the hard plastic case, it then smelled funny, gave off a little smoke, and quit. (go figure)

First “PA” was a Radio Shack hi impedance microphone into a 2-channel paging amplifier connected to a bell speaker that we salvaged out of an old trailer park. It didn’t work that well and we really didn’t sing very well, but it was something instead of nothing.

We taught ourselves to build a “light show”. (every cool band had to have a light-show). Built our own lights, flash pots, strobes etc. We also tried to build dry ice “machines”. At one point we had one of those red police flashers that we wired up to a switchable duplex outlet connected to a 12v battery charger mounted inside this wooden desk. It worked pretty great until one day one of our “roadies” plugged it into one of the regular 120Vac outlets and flipped the switch. It spun faster than heck – for about 8 seconds, put off a little smoke, smelled funny then quit. (go figure)

Flash Powder, Salamander kerosene space heaters, and one extension cord between the garage and the barn to power the whole show.

Around our senior year, we booked our own concert at the local National Guard Armory. We teamed up with another local band so we could increase attendance and cover the room rental and required security cop costs. We even had high-school friends help promote and sell tickets that we had printed. Many tickets got “lost” and not nearly enough cash came in. (go figure)

Great memories. We learned a lot. We lived, we laughed, we didn’t die from electrocution or burn the barn down. Gradually got better at playing music, general management, and basic accounting. All together I’d say it was a win. 🙂

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