By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMP
There’s no “I” in project team—or volunteer.
While volunteering on a 2021 forum for an association, I was assigned to work with a new volunteer. At the outset, I had some reservations. Throughout the experience, however, I gained knowledge that I can now apply to collaborations with my other project teams.
I’ve outlined some lessons learned that will help you open yourself up to more collaboration in your volunteer efforts (and become better project leaders in the process):
Lesson 1: Get over yourself.
When the project manager first proposed to me that I find another volunteer to help manage the forum’s communications, I had to confess I was not particularly enthusiastic, despite the high workload ahead of me.
Why? I enjoyed hogging the spotlight, I took more pride in managing alone and I thought it would be extra work to synchronize my efforts with someone else.
But after I made the effort to connect with a fellow volunteer, I came to some realizations that showed me how wrong I was. I discovered she was a specialist in communications and marketing, which I am not. Because of her background, she was able to bring fresh perspectives and challenge my views. She also prevented me from being a bottleneck by sharing in the labor and compensating as needed. Finally, she forced me to look more closely at my delegation style in a safe, low-stakes environment, which helped me to grow as a better leader overall.
This collaboration revealed a rich tapestry of lessons learned—ones I wouldn’t have experienced had I not opened myself up to the idea of working with another volunteer.
Lesson 2: Embrace a different mindset.
During your volunteer experience, seize the opportunity to challenge yourself:
Sharing responsibilities does not mean micromanagement. It means learning to trust, learning to give autonomy and learning to oversee.
Conversely, giving team members space does not mean pushing them into the unknown without a safety net. Make yourself available and accessible to assist, encourage and explain, as needed.
Lesson 3: Think about the future.
By working with others, you can contribute to the growth of the next generation of leaders—and that’s rewarding. You will revel in helping them demonstrate their value.
I once was in a small language association where the president managed all alone, complaining he had too much to do. When he left, the association died with him. Do you want to be remembered in that way?
On a pragmatic side, motivated volunteers with increased responsibilities improve the retention rate, help the association avoid falling into a rut and, more importantly, cement stronger ties, strengthening the feeling of belonging and inclusion. Be a part of shaping that future.
Lesson 4: Work toward change in increments.
You can’t reshape the organizational culture overnight. But you can take small steps to make a difference:
Sharing responsibilities will bring unexpected benefits for yourself, your co-volunteers and the association.
What are some lessons learned you’ve taken from volunteer experiences? Share in the comments below.