You know it when you see it; it’s the brand you love on Instagram, that coffee shop you love visiting, the band you follow, or the amazing team you get to be part of. We’re talking about culture. And culture doesn’t just happen.
The culture you experience on your team wasn’t always the way it was; you know this because you’re part of shaping that culture. You’re the thermostat that sets the temperature for your team and environment. The ideal culture is somewhere in your head; it’s definitely in your heart, and it’s awesome. So how do you instill that culture into your volunteers? Here are some ideas.
It’s caught, not taught.
It’s important to understand this foundational truth about culture. It can’t be taught, but it can be caught. Be with your team, and not just when it’s time to serve. Be in their lives and spend quality time with those who you serve alongside and get to lead. I’ve watched a lot of people in leadership positions say a lot of great things about the culture they want to see but fall short when it comes to actually modeling it. For instance, if you want to instill a culture of first in/last out, you had better be the first one in and the last one out. If you’re looking to establish an environment of excellence, make sure you’re living and breathing evidence of it.
Be > do.
Instilling culture in your volunteers isn’t behavior modification; although change in behavior is a result of an effective culture. If it were this simple, you could just give your volunteers a list of things to do. Instead, your culture is at its best when you’re modeling who Jesus is calling them to be. Simply put, we need to always be motivated by who we want our people to be instead of what we want them to do and leading them toward that.
Speak it into existence.
Words create worlds. We all know how powerful words can be, so choose yours carefully. What you say, how you say it, and how often you say it is vital. I’m big on things like “we get to do this” or “serving is such a great opportunity” or “I love serving alongside you”. Keeping the vision in front of people is so crucial to a healthy culture. Oftentimes, when I’m taking a moment to connect with and thank a volunteer, I’ll say something along the lines of “thanks so much for serving and leading with us/me…” because at its core, that’s what we get to do—and in that order. Jesus modeled servant-leadership everywhere he went and so it’s the model we use.
Give them what they want need.
Great leaders seek to understand the real needs of those under their influence and care. Great leaders know that great culture isn’t about catering to people’s wants and keeping them happy all of the time. Instead, it’s knowing what they need and doing what is necessary to foster an environment where those needs are met. Is your team seeming an inch deep and a mile wide? You might be nailing it when it comes to keeping things positive and having fun yet falling short on things like spiritual development or other leadership qualities that make up a healthy and balanced team culture.
Although it’s true the culture of our ministry teams orbits around the vision, it’s also important to know one of the things that is so beautiful about what we get to do is that we are most successful when we equip and empower people to do ministry. In order to do that, we need to actively seek to share the ownership of the ministry and vision with them. When we do this, we’re embracing the diversity of gifts and passions that surround us.
Remember: Culture moves the mission forward toward the vision, and that’s why it’s so important to keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open to what God might have for our teams. Most leaders won’t think about it at this level; then again, you’re not most leaders… are you?