Self-Directed Teams™: An Idea Whose Time Has Come


What a great idea – a website where people working with self-directed teams™ can share ideas!

When I was working as a volunteer manager I helped to start a self-directed team to attract baby boomer volunteers. When I retired 5 years ago, I joined the team I created and have been an active member ever since.

I’m convinced that self-directed teams are an idea whose time has come. Unfortunately, most of the literature on how to create and nurture teams comes out of the world of paid work. There is very little information on creating self-directed teams of volunteers to solve problems in nonprofits and the community. This website can help to fill that void but it is up to us who are experimenting and learning about teams to share what we know. Contributing to this blog is a great way to get started.

Something exciting is happening in volunteerism. I believe that organizationally-based volunteering, like the world of paid work before it, is moving into its “post-industrial age.”  In our industrial age, staff were the “thinkers” and volunteers were the “doers” or “laborers”.” In those days, paid staff did all of the work that really mattered. They were the experts who came up with the solutions, created the programs and defined what volunteers would do. All that was left for the volunteers was to follow their orders. In volunteerism’s industrial age, volunteer work was too often low-skilled, routine and boring. Independent thinking and creativity were not required – in fact, they were discouraged.

Today, in volunteerism’s “post-industrial” age, we are beginning to look at volunteers not just as an extra pair of hands but as people with knowledge that supplements that of staff and sophisticated problem-solving skills.  Volunteer managers and staff are realizing that at least some volunteers can come up with their own solutions to problems, determine what actions to take and monitor their own progress. All of the talk today about pro-bono and skilled volunteerism is a recognition that if nonprofits are to really make a difference they have to find new ways of unleashing the higher skills of volunteers. They also need to allow volunteers to tackle the really tough issues (that in the past were thought to be appropriate only for the paid professionals) in new and creative ways.

In this new age of volunteerism, I can’t think of a better strategy than self-directed teams™ for engaging volunteers with diverse, professional skills and for providing a safe structure for them to come up with their own, creative solutions to organizational and community challenges. I hope to talk more about this in future posts.