How to Mobilize A Volunteer Dream Team

Living-Room-Small-GroupOf the many volunteer teams I have led,  three types of teams stand out.

  1. The dynamic, high capacity dream team
  2. The dysfunctional nightmare team
  3. The rather bland team in which members show up because they have to or for some guilt-driven reason.

Let’s be honest. We’d all love our teams to be dream teams—those teams that take on our mission with the same passion that drives me. Dream teams start with proper recruitment (see “recruiting is like dating). But once I have recruited my volunteers, I have the challenge of mobilizing these high-capacity passionate volunteers into a powerful volunteer dream team. That is a huge task. They don’t work together without effective leadership.

Dream teams are defined by three leadership IF FACTORS that determine their effectiveness. The successful team leader understands these FACTORS and knows how to balance them. IF, and IF is the key word, any or all the FACTORS are weak or IF one FACTOR dominates the others, the team is either a bland team or the dysfunctional team from hell. To lead a dynamic synergistic dream team, the leader must balance these three IF FACTORS. 

  • The Cause Factor:  A cause drives every organization.   The mission is the constant that focuses the volunteers. However, some leaders, even though passionate about the cause, don’t know how to execute the mission.
  • The Execution Factor:  Steve Jobs said, “To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.”  Process is as important as the goal, and mobilizing the dream team is knowing how to empower a group of professional, passionate volunteers in a smooth operating machine that stays on mission.
  • The Camaraderie Factor:  Creating a friendly volunteer culture so that volunteers enjoy being with each other is also just as essential as the mission and the process. After all, this is their free time when they could be playing golf.

All three IF FACTORS are essential and must be equal. Can three things be equal?  In this case, yes. They must be equal in their emphasis and effectiveness. And when team leaders blend, understand and affirm the contribution of each FACTOR, the team is a powerful synergistic force.  If I were to diagram the healthy team, it would look like this.

DOVIA Sacramento Extract.001

In our “How to Make the Team Work” workshops I often have the participants draw a picture of one of their teams using three circles to represent the IF FACTORS.  I ask them to represent the impact, or lack of impact, of each IF FACTOR by the size of the circle they draw. I also ask them to think of how the three circles are connected. Over the years I have seen many pictures of dysfunctional teams, and unfortunately, most of us have been on each of these teams. As you look at each picture, I’m sure you can recall the feelings of trying to work in such a dysfunctional work culture.

These are some of the pictures I have seen, starting with the “On a Mission” team. Some leaders of nonprofits are so vision/mission driven they forget the importance of camaraderie and execution of the mission. This is how they drew their organization:

DOVIA Sacramento Extract 2.001

Not very healthy!

In another organization, one very creative person drew the picture of “The Party Team.”  Organizations that grow older can morph into the “Party Team” where people who have worked together for a long time just enjoy being together.  They sometimes forget the mission of the organization that was created to fill a huge need.
DOVIA Sacramento Extract 2.002

One of my favorite drawings was the “Pac-Man Team.”  This picture was drawn by a team member of a government organization strapped with regulations.

DOVIA Sacramento Extract 2.003

What does your team look like? Are you leading a well balanced team? Are the volunteers on a mission? Do they feel the impact of their roles in accomplishing the mission? Are they having fun?

In our “How to Make the Team Work” workshop, we first teach you how to recruit the volunteers for your dream team. Then you learn how to balance the three IF FACTORS to lead your dream team.

For those of you in Northern California, I will be leading the “How to Make the Team Work” workshop on February 9th for DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies) Sacramento from 8:30—12:00.

Registration information for DOVIA Sacramento:

If you are interested in bringing this workshop to your organization, contact me at

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2 Responses to How to Mobilize A Volunteer Dream Team

  1. Emile John says:

    Thank you Thomas, you write up is well written and I learnt alot.
    Thank you again.

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