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 handown 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.
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