Andrea Horbinski 2015 Q&A: OTW Culture and Communication, Group 1

How do you plan to engage staff and volunteers in dialogue regarding Board decisions and the direction of the organization? How about the membership?

No answer provided.

Talk about one thing a committee you served with did really well and how this taught you something valuable about collaboration in the OTW.

No answer provided.

What are three things you think Board can learn from committees?

No answer provided.

What are your thoughts on a more public ‘in person’ presence being established by the Org? How might you see this balanced with the desire and in some cases need for privacy?

No answer provided.

Daniel Lamson 2015 Q&A: Volunteer Management

Note: Dan has withdrawn from the race, but he completed his answers before withdrawing, so they will be posted to the site.

What is your approach to people management and development?

My approach to people management is to treat everyone as I’d like to be treated. I don’t look down on people, even if they are subordinate to me. I generally ask for volunteers as opposed to issuing orders, but when the need arises, an order may need to be made. I find leading this way to be a good example for those I’m working with.

As for development, I feel that learning by doing is a good way to develop people. I like to show people how to act and how to do what they need to do. This encourages independence, but I always am available to my staffers if they need something.

Basically, I’ve found people learn by doing, and getting in their way can sometimes stifle their growth.

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

This is a question that could be posed to our volunteers and recruiting committee, and they may be better able to answer or have good ideas on it. I think for board’s part what they could do is to make sure that the OTW is an open and friendly place for volunteers.

I feel that making the most of volunteers is a chair issue, more than a board one. I wouldn’t want to micromanage other committees telling them how to use their staffers. That said, I would encourage all staffers to work as much as they feel they can, because burnout is an issue for our volunteers.

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?

A) I have been close to burnout myself, and it was only through good friends on my committee that I didn’t ditch the OTW completely when it was at its worst. There was a lot going on in my real life at the time, and chairing alone was a very difficult proposition. (It is so great to have a co-chair like mine now!) As to my staffers on DevMem, I encourage all staffers to do the best and most they can, but often offer to take responsibilities off their shoulders if it seems like they are doing too much. We’ve been lucky that burnout from DevMem has been rare lately.

B) I would be open and encouraging of the volunteers and their work. I think that doing that is all a board member can do without stepping in and taking over. If it is a chair that has the issue (as I did) I think contacting them to see if they were alright and if there was anything that board could do to help lighten the load. I am not sure if we could ever eliminate the pressure volunteers feel, because a lot is put on one’s self. Sure, there are certain issues that need immediate and total attention or else bad things would happen, but more often than not there is a lot of stuff that can be put off for a bit, or returned to the staff pool if you’re not able to do it. For the most part, it’s a smart thing to do if you are feeling close to burnout, and no one would think less of you.

Matty Bowers 2015 Q&A: Volunteer Management

What is your approach to people management and development?

I’m a strong believer in flexibility; my management style depends on the situation and people involved. In general, I prefer to work with people, not over them. As a committee chair, it’s my job to focus on the big picture and keep things moving, not micromanage and interfere in day to day committee work. I hope to follow a similar style on Board.

Regarding development, I think a key area the OTW needs to focus on improving is training. It’s something I spent a lot of time rethinking in Support and Abuse, both for staff training and chair training. Good training is crucial for sustainability. Since implementing the new training regimes, we’ve gone from three active staffers on Abuse to over a dozen. Many other committees are implementing similar systems, and the impact is noticeable throughout the organization.

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

Volunteers are donating their time and efforts on what is essentially an unpaid, part-time job. Their contributions should be celebrated – we wouldn’t be where we are without them.

As an organization we need to:

  • work on effective recruiting
  • ensure volunteers are given sufficient training
  • make sure they all have a clear understanding of what their tasks are
  • make sure no one person is responsible for too much
  • make tasks meaningful; people aren’t volunteering to do busywork
  • give honest feedback – most people want to know where they are doing well and what needs improvement
  • make sure no one is a lynchpin; everyone should feel they can step back without things falling apart
  • remember that we are volunteering out of love for fandom and have fun

We especially need to make more of an effort to train people for staff and chair roles. Lack of training often leads to frustration and inefficiency, which greatly increases the risk of burnout. Without new staff and chairs, the same people keep rotating tasks in an attempt to keep things going.

Thankfully, more and more committees are starting to make an effort in regards to training. We have several committees, including Abuse, trying out chair training track systems, which will greatly help the organization. Chair positions are no longer going to the last person standing; they are going to people who have earned the positions and are capable of handling the roles.

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?

OTW work is never finished. There is always another tag to wrangle, another report to answer, another bug to investigate, another email to write – the list goes on and on. It’s easy to think, “Ok, just one more…” and next thing you know it’s midnight and you’ve done nothing but OTW work.

For me personally, I grew up watching people overextend themselves to the point of burnout, so setting limits on OTW work isn’t a problem. I do take my commitment to my OTW work very seriously; this means I do occasionally get up at 6am for a meeting or rearrange my personal life to meet OTW deadlines. However, I have no problem taking a break from OTW duties for reading, gaming, family time, etc. In the end, it’s all about balance.

As a chair, I very strongly encourage my staffers to take breaks and to disengage from OTW work before they start feeling overwhelmed. Tags, tickets, emails, bugs – they’ll all be there when you come back. For many of us, our tasks are literally neverending. There is nothing wrong with taking breaks and letting others take their turn.

The real problems arise when there is no one else to to step in and take a turn. This is where Board needs to ensure the committee chairs are getting all the support they need in recruiting and retaining volunteers.