Alex Tischer 2015 Q&A: Volunteer Management

What is your approach to people management and development?

My approach to people management is very deliberately hands-off. I try to make sure the people I manage have the tools and the skills to do their job and then take a step back and let them get on with it, trusting them to know how to do their job and also to come to me with any questions that might come up. Development-wise I follow the same strategy, offer opportunities for training and growth, but trust people to make use of them as required without forcing them to sit through something they feel they don’t need.

How would you build the organisation’s capacity and ensure we are making the most of volunteers’ energy and skills?

Building up the org’s capacity to take on more volunteers is something structural that needs to be worked on with the individual committees as well as VolCom, who in general oversees inductions and recruitment.

Ensuring that we make most of our volunteers’ skills depends heavily on the committees. Methods that work for Comms will be useless for Web; AD&T has to employ different ways than Wiki. Translation for one solves this problem by offering a number of ways for volunteers to take on more tasks and to interact with others who are of the same mind, and creating an atmosphere of frequent engagement, both social and work-related, and productivity. Having clear requirements, goals and standards, even if they’re flexible, is essential to define expectations and to ensure a healthy team-wide work rhythm.

A lot of the tensions between the Board, Committees, Volunteers and the public stem from the fact that a lot of those volunteers over-invest because they are passionate about fandom, end up close to burnout, and tend to be overworked, which isn’t sustainable in the long run.
A) In your experience as an OTW volunteer/staffer/Board member, how did you deal with this, both for yourself as with people you were responsible for,
B) How would you promote an atmosphere where volunteers don’t feel this pressure?

Promoting an atmosphere where volunteers don’t feel this pressure is not really possible, because the pressure is up to each person, and stems in large parts from the passion people feel towards fandom. There’s nothing in the OTW’s setup inherently that pressures people into over-investing; they over-invest out of their own, they put the pressure to over-invest on themselves because they are passionate about fandom. Over-investing is what fandom does.

For me personally, I deal with this by being self-aware enough to know the situations when I am prone to over-invest and good enough at self-assessment to judge if a thing I would really like to do fits on my plate or if I should let it go.

Because so much of this is a matter of knowing yourself, it is hard to help people you’re responsible for with this. My most commonly employed methods are helping people take the time to think decisions through, with all long-term consequences, before volunteering for another role and also offering an easy opportunity to take some time out if they are feeling overwhelmed.