Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 52;   December 26, 2007: Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: II

Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

When we seek volunteers for specific, time-limited tasks, a common approach is just to ask the entire team at a meeting or teleconference. It's simple, but it carries risks. There are alternatives.
Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., (right) bids farewell to Gen. Bernard Montgomery (left) at the Palermo airport

Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., bids farewell to Gen. Bernard Montgomery at the Palermo airport in Sicily on July 28, 1943. By then their rivalry, which was to become one of Gen. Eisenhower's most serious leadership difficulties, was nearing its zenith. Rivalry between team members can provide motivation for volunteering, but it comes at a high price paid in terms of team cohesion. It's tempting for team leaders to exploit or even stimulate rivalries, but the effect of such tactics is usually expensive and might even threaten the team's mission. Gen. Eisenhower dealt with the rivalry between the two generals by separating them as best he could, but political constraints on Eisenhower's authority probably prevented him from choosing more effective tactics. Photo from "Images from World War II: The Early Years," compiled by Capt. John F. Curley, courtesy U.S. Army Center of Military History.

When leaders or managers ask teams or groups for volunteers for a specific task of limited duration, things usually work out fine. But sometimes we get too many volunteers, too few volunteers, or a basket of trouble. Here's Part II of a collection of tactics to help you through the sticky situations that sometimes arise when you ask for volunteers. See "Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: I," Point Lookout for December 19, 2007, for more.

When the wrong people volunteer
Some volunteers are already overloaded, but they volunteer because they want the assignment, or they believe that the task is politically valuable. Some care little about the task itself, and some lack necessary technical or interpersonal skills.
If some people aren't ready or right for the task, in some cases, you can convert the situation into a developmental opportunity. Explain privately that you'd like to offer them a future assignment, if they address the issues you've noticed. Ask for their views, and together work towards a development plan that leads to a workable outcome for all concerned.
If you take a developmental approach, don't promise the "next" opportunity — it commits you to making the offer, independent of the volunteer's progress. Keep future assignments contingent on progress against the development plan.
If you believe that some people will never be right for the task in question, and if tasks of that kind are a significant fraction of your team's work, consider whether these people are better placed elsewhere. You might want to keep them on for their ability to contribute in other ways, but recognize that if you do, and if they continue to harbor other ambitions, you're at risk of accepting a chronic irritant that could escalate.
When designating one leader might offend the others
For a multi-person task group, it's usually best to designate a lead. This can be difficult or awkward, but failing to do so just shifts the burden of that difficulty to the task group. It leaves them with an ongoing problem whenever they must decide anything.
Designating a Designating a lead after
you've selected the volunteers
can be trouble, especially
if more than one of
them wants the position
lead after you've selected the volunteers can be trouble, especially if more than one of them wants the position, or if those not selected might feel slighted. In effect, you've created a mini-mess — and some of these messes aren't so mini.
To avoid these problems, ask for volunteers for the lead before you ask for volunteers for the task — or select a lead in advance, privately. Once the task lead is named, everyone who volunteers knows the structure of the task group, and that clarity removes much of the risk of interpersonal difficulty.

Although we ask for volunteers to find people who actually want the assignments, the process often uncovers problems within the team. Addressing those problems might seem difficult, but it's preferable to avoiding asking for volunteers. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Our Last Meeting Together  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? rbrenAnDCzXJJiZjrGzegner@ChacEQCyXyTQkkyBNBRpoCanyon.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:

Mars as seen by Hubble Space TelescopeWho Would You Take With You to Mars?
What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
A frost-covered spider webSome Limits of Root Cause Analysis
Root Cause Analysis uses powerful tools for finding the sources of process problems. The approach has been so successful that it has become a way of thinking about organizational patterns. Yet, resolving organizational problems this way sometimes works — and sometimes fails. Why?
Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
The Lincoln Memorial at sunriseOrganizational Loss: Searching Behavior
When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational loss.
A beefsteak, with some amount of fatWacky Words of Wisdom: VI
Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A rainbowComing May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
Signing the Constitution of the United States, 1787And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenAZYzEVOzFWRpkSdVner@ChacJCEJtbyfbVmxkXAZoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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

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 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.