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10 important tips build a strong team
Building strong relationships

10 years ago, I had a dream to build a united, caring and connected community through volunteerism. Looking back, this was a very lofty vision for sure. However, coming from a long career in the Corporate Sector, I quickly realized that the biggest advantage the voluntary sector has to offer is in the way it can build its assets, specifically its biggest asset: the skilled and diverse Volunteer and Staff Team. The reality is that you don’t need a huge budget to move mountains and deliver your mission, as long as you have a solid team that’s passionate, skilled and creative, provided that you as the Leader create an environment where they can use their assets to create a win-win. I firmly believe that BUILDING a successful TEAM is the foundation for your organization’s success and that this is your biggest competitive advantage!

1. Find your Purpose

To build a good team, you first need to look at yourself. As humans, we all have the desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. This is rooted deep within all of us. Being purpose-driven is the best way to satisfy this need. The two most important dates in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. Based on that, knowing who you are and what it is you want to do, beyond making money is such a vital part of being successful and finding your purpose. Let’s face it: You don’t work in the non-profit sector to become rich. So ask yourself, who do we serve? Why is it important? What greater impact will you, or can you and your team create that will change lives and make this world a better place. When you leave this world, what do you want your legacy to be both personally and professionally? Once you find your purpose, recruit a ‘heart-centered’ volunteer and staff team equally passionate about your cause. They are bound to become your biggest ambassadors.

2. Adopt a People First Philosophy

Traditionally, organizations’ major focus is on funding but what if we change this where the talent of people becomes the focus of all organizational development. That’s the focus of using a People Lens as a recruitment strategy. This approach involves skilled volunteers and staff in all aspects of an organization and recruits teams based on the assets they bring: their passion, talent, and transferable skills, regardless of whether they are paid vs. non-paid. Years ago, I had the privilege of listening and meeting Jim Collins. In his book “Good to Great”, he offered the best advice that has been my golden rule: “Recruitment of volunteers and staff should be based on putting the right people on the bus and together you determine what seat they occupy”. As a leader, your responsibility is to support your team to co-create their roles and set joint goals to measure progress as against your mission. I am very proud that most of our staff at Volunteer MBC started their careers with us as skilled and passionate volunteers. They have found their niche and continue to grow and expand their current roles. Adopting a ‘People Lens’ enables leaders to create and grow value-based, sustainable organizations with a strong volunteer culture from the inside out.

3. Build Strong Relationships

Relationships are the center of everything. So, the relationships we build as leaders must be based on trust and mutual respect. It’s YOUR responsibility to earn both. Great leaders inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words. I try to be a role model, not a preacher and I surround myself with a team that’s smarter than I am and truly value the skills and diverse perspectives they bring. It’s important to treat your volunteers and staff like family and always mirror how you want to be treated. It’s definitely a two-way street. Many leaders say that integrity is important to them, but great leaders walk their talk by demonstrating integrity every day. My main responsibility is to earn their trust and respect and give them the freedom and tools to shine in their role.

4. When life gives you Lemons – make Lemonade together

This is a valuable lesson I learned from my late father. Whether personal or as a team, life is unpredictable and you or a team member will be faced with many challenges along the way. 6 years ago, when I received my first breast cancer diagnosis, I was devastated for exactly one day. However, the next day with the support of my husband and family, I decided to fight back because I realized that I had so much to live for, so many people I still wanted to help. There simply was not enough time to dwell on the negative. I consider every day a blessing now and realize how important it is to be there for your team members, to find solutions together and celebrate your victories, even the baby step milestones. Remember to make the best lemonade you need lots of juicy lemons.

5. Communicate All the Time

The vast majority of conflict in our workplaces or any relationship for that fact can be blamed on poor communication. As leaders, we don’t place nearly enough effort into communicating clearly and often. But when a leader or team does not properly communicate, too many assumptions are made. This results in your team being unsure about where they stand or how they need to behave. Many managers think that they are great communicators, not realizing that they are only communicating in one direction. Be approachable and accessible to listen to ideas your team shares with you. Communication is an ongoing process and I admit that for me this is still a work in progress. My suggestion is to make it a priority every day to be a great communicator and your best option is to definitely over- v. under-communicate to avoid these issues.

6. Value your time

Time is the most precious commodity my late Dad used to say to me. You only have one life to live, make it count and use it wisely! The reality is that we exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. All of us are sent here for a reason, and the best part is that we all have been blessed with unique gifts. It’s important to realize that it is the expression of our gifts that contribute to a cause much greater than ourselves. Unfortunately, we live in a time-starved society. There never seem to be enough hours in a day to get everything done and we now know that multitasking kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Our need to constantly check our devices in meetings and other social settings indicate low self- and social awareness, two emotional intelligence skills that are critical to success at work and building strong relationships. I used to pride myself on being a great multitasker, but I realize more and more each day that I am both happier and more productive by just focusing on completing one task at a time.

7. Motivate Your Team

Research from the University of California found that motivated staff and volunteer teams were 31% more productive, and three times more creative than demotivated teams. They were also 87% less likely to leave the organization. The same research also shows that a mind-boggling 70% of a team member’s motivation is influenced by his or her manager. It’s no wonder then that team members don’t leave their positions, they leave managers. Here are just a few tips to keep up morale and spirits. Organizations need policies and rules but don’t overdo it, be flexible. Recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of your team. Be empathetic and know how to strike a balance between being professional and human. Take a genuine interest in your team’s work/personal life balance, but that has to be modeled by you first. Realize that you can’t do it alone! Delivering and accomplishing your vision and that of the organization you work with is far too lofty to tackle by yourself, yet you can motivate each other in pursuit of common goals.

8. Define and Believe in Core Values

Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or an organization. These guiding principles will dictate behavior and help people distinguish right from wrong. Work with your Volunteer Board and staff Team to define a strong set of core values that the entire organization can stand behind. It is also important to take time to define your own set of core values and figure out how they align to that of your organization. Live, think and breathe these core values. You will always know a core value not by the words on a website but by seeing what a leader recognizes and talks about. At the end of the day, these values are key because talented people aren’t attracted to empty core values, but rather are attracted to the practice of exercising and experiencing them.

9. Create a culture of learning, diversity, and inclusion

The day you stop learning from each other is the day you will have given up on yourself and your team. Volunteer MBC’s team benefits from a strong culture of learning in everything we do. All learning and coaching opportunities have a common theme - to make us better. As a teenager, I received a National Geographic coffee table book from the best teacher I ever had. It was called “Peoples of the World”. In it, the editor explains that there are literally thousands of ethnic groups – or – people worldwide and that ethnicity is a kind of fellow feeling that binds people together and arises out of a shared history and language, shared traditions and values that ultimately determines whether people choose war or peace. I promised myself that I would leave Belgium one day and travel the world to learn what makes us all unique but find similarities that bring us all together. Little did I know that the Volunteer MBC culturally diverse volunteer and staff team would provide the best learning opportunity ever! One of the greatest joys is sharing lunch with them to talk about their values, what matters to them and the unique skills they possess. There is a lot of value in developing skills together in order to contribute to the long-term success and wellbeing of your team. You must challenge why you tend to fear the unknown. Always challenge what’s possible. Strive to encourage your team to no end, and align yourself with your team’s goals and dreams.

10. Give yourself permission to fail

There is no “I” in team but when it comes to making mistakes. First, give yourself permission to fail, own your mistakes and mirror that with your Team. As a leader, you need to take responsibility to find a fix together. Leading a team is a constant learning process. I absolutely love that there is not a day that goes by at Volunteer MBC where I don’t learn something new. You will make mistakes and believe me I have made many along the way, but it is important as a leader to learn from those mistakes and even more important to apply those same principles to your team. Being a good leader is not an easy process. It’s hard work, but as my Dad used to say: “Rome was not built in one day”. As long as you make a commitment to your continued personal development to understand, analyze and master all the learning along the way and work on how to constantly improve the performance of yourself and your team, you will reap the success.

I would like to leave you with this quote which really sums up your role as a Leader: “If you want to move people, it has to be toward a vision that’s positive for them, that taps important values, that gets them something they desire and it has to be presented in a compelling way that they feel inspired to follow.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by Carine St
Carine Strong is Volunteer MBC's Executive Director