Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 51;   December 19, 2007: Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: I

Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: I

by

CEOs, board chairs, department heads and team leads of all kinds sometimes seek people to handle specific, time-limited tasks. Asking the group for volunteers works fine — usually. There are alternatives.
Huskies along the trail during start day, March 1998, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Huskies along the trail during start day, March 1998, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. At distances over ten miles, the racing sled dog is the fastest animal in the world. There is a widely-held, but false, belief that sled dog teams are hierarchical, and that the lead sled dog is dominant. In racing, the need for high performance creates a need for absolute teamwork, which is incompatible with hierarchy. Position along the gang line is determined not by hierarchy but by the talents required for that position, and by matching partners. This might explain why a common problem plaguing dog drivers is of the too-many-volunteers type. In a book co-authored with Lorna Coppinger, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution, Raymond Coppinger tells a story about his dog Rena that illustrates this point. One race weekend, Rena had sore feet and he had to leave her at home. She howled continuously for days, and when he returned she was so hoarse that her barks were nothing but squeaks. Rena would not be denied. Note: Although some consider the Iditarod to be cruel and abusive of the dogs, sled dog racing generally is less controversial. Photo by Jeff Schultz, courtesy the U.S. Library of Congress.

Leaders of all kinds ask for volunteers for specific, short-duration tasks. Volunteers tend to be more intrinsically motivated — they want to do well because they sought the assignment. Yet, asking for volunteers isn't always as easy as we'd hope. Here's Part I of a collection of tactics to help you through the sticky situations that sometimes arise when asking for volunteers.

When nobody volunteers
Very little is more demoralizing to a team leader than that awkward silence that follows a request for volunteers. People tend to assume that nobody wants the job, and filling the position in question — or other positions, too — can become more difficult.
Perhaps the job is repugnant or stigmatized. If so, sweeten the package somehow in advance.
But silence doesn't necessarily mean nobody wants the job. People can decline for fear of rejection, or overload, or because they anticipate more appealing opportunities.
If you expect awkward silence, consider whether you're asking too much, or whether your past behavior might be at issue. Perhaps people see working with you as risky, or not worth the trouble.
If your requests are reasonable, if you've treated volunteers well, and you still have trouble, then seek volunteers in other ways. Try personal contact by email, telephone, or in face-to-face.
When too many volunteer
When too many people volunteer, you must choose some and reject others. In a healthy team, this isn't a big deal. People know that your selection of others doesn't necessarily reflect on those not selected, and they know that other opportunities will follow.
But if some team members might experience painful rejection, your choice to accept other offers can be problematic. This can happen to team leaders who've acquired a reputation for setting team members against one another, or who've used plum assignments as a means of creating competition. Or it can happen when leaders systematically reject the offers of some team members without explanation, or when team leaders have played favorites.
Accepting all applicants isn't a solution, because it fails to address the basic problem: too many for the task at hand. If you expect that too many will volunteer, make your request in a way that limits this risk. Make your request offline, and apply an objective criterion such as "first to reply." Or contact individuals by telephone or in person.

The leaders' Accepting all applicants
isn't a solution, because
it fails to address the
basic problem: too many
for the task at hand
own motivations are also important. Some examples: we might ask for volunteers because we seek the validation that volunteers provide; or we might fear being rejected if we simply ask someone to take on added responsibility. Dealing with these issues by shifting the burden to the team isn't likely to work — people can sense the true motive. Seek volunteers because you really want volunteers.

Next time, we'll turn to questions about getting the right people and the right leadership.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: II  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGefzCWhYkLNyyoJRner@ChacRNlsFbIGzNfneDwCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A toasterSome Costs of COTS
As a way of managing risk, we sometimes steer our organizations towards commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, methodologies, designs, and processes. But to gain a competitive edge, we need creative differentiation.
A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaThe Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
Computer monitors being recycled by the Nevada Division of Environmental ProtectionHow Not to Accumulate Junk
Look around your office. Look around your home. Very likely, some of your belongings are useless and provide neither enjoyment nor cause for contemplation. Where does this stuff come from? Why can't we get rid of it?
An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: I
Have you ever regretted saying something that you wouldn't have said if only you had known just one more little fact? Yeah, me too. We all have. Here are some tips for dealing with this sticky situation.
Astronauts Musgrave and Hoffman install corrective optics during the Hubble Telescope's Service Mission 1How We Waste Time: I
Time is the one workplace resource that's evenly distributed. Everyone gets exactly the same share, but some use it more wisely than others. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways we waste time.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenAuXsMTZbENMdosOIner@ChacPcqLJHPNTJvsyEIToCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.