Popularized by Robert Greenleaf in 1970, servant leadership is the idea that a leader’s primary job is serving others. This way of thinking is very prevalent in the non-profit sector - it’s the board’s job to make sure the staff have the resources they need, it’s the staff’s job to implement & support the volunteers implementing the programs, and our volunteers are tasked with supporting each other & program participants. At all levels of the org chart, we’re all willing to pitch in and do whatever is needed to accomplish our goals.
Do you know how many people it takes to run a FIRST Robotics Competition competition? For a legit, 30+ team event like this one, it takes almost 150 staff & volunteers working together to make all of the magic happen. We ran the first event in Indiana since March of 2020 this past weekend. It was great to get back to something like normal - you don’t really get FRC without going to a competition, and a sizable part of most of our teams have never had the chance to go. It took about 50 of us the better part of 2 days to get the everything set up for the event, and then another 6 hours or so after it was all over to tear it all back down & packed back into the trucks. The event was surprisingly problem-free considering that we haven’t had an event in 16 months, and all 24 teams that attended had a great time.
In addition to my role on the FIRST Indiana Robotics Board of Directors, I’m also the lead AV & Production Manager for the state - so my job, along with my crew of 3 other volunteers, was to make the "show" happen - cameras, projectors, speakers, microphones, live streaming, the whole deal. And even though that was my actual job, that’s not all I did. From helping to pack the trucks before the event, to laying out tarps, to peeling really bad masking tape off of the vinyl fieldhouse floor, I pitched in wherever I was needed - as does everyone else there. I got plenty of help with AV stuff from a lot of people, from the IT staff at the school going out of their way to help get me what I needed to the emcees helping to wrap cables & put stuff away when the event was over. We’re all here volunteering for this thing that we care deeply about, so we all look out for each other and want to make things as good as we possibly can.
But as organizations grow, systems, processes, and procedures don’t always keep up, new processes don’t get properly thought through, or a lack of capacity (or even worse, a perceived lack of capacity) prevents much needed change in how something gets done. More often than not it’s the volunteers that end up suffering from these issues. Since the volunteers care more about the experience for the event participants than what they get out of it, they’re willing to hide all problems or put in the extra effort to maintain a high-quality participant experience. But as part of the leadership of one of these organizations, I want the people that are volunteering for us to have the best experience possible too. Our volunteers' time and energy is a precious resource, and we shouldn’t waste it on ineffective processes and work that doesn’t generate value for the organization. By prioritizing this process work, not just project & program work, we can help keep our volunteers happier, which helps make our organization better.
If process & systems design isn’t your cup of tea, you might need some external help. This kind of stuff is my bread & butter. Whether we’re talking about event registration processes that need tweaked as we get back toward a post-pandemic "normal" or finding a better way to keep your volunteers up-to-date with what’s going on in your organization, I can help you figure out the inefficiencies, gaps, and pain points in your current processes and find systems that help you better accomplish your goals, ideally with less work than you’re doing now.