Years ago, I worked for a nonprofit organization providing literacy education to people in rural communities. I soon realized that I needed much more than my idealism to make it work. I required marketing skills to attract volunteers and sponsors, volunteer management skills to inspire and retain a cadre of volunteers, as well as some solid administration and planning skills to meet the demand and ensure that respect and privacy were always top of mind.
Time was always in short supply and I soon had to learn to delegate and to develop a systems approach if I wanted this to be a successful project. I was fortunate at the time to have a strong mentor who taught me the value of collaboration, leadership and continuous learning.
As the person in charge I had to work quickly to build my team. The two key learnings I received from my mentor was to be an effective leader you have to be a good listener and always be willing to collaborate. Meetings quickly became work sessions with clear goals and timelines. It didn’t take long until we all felt a sense of accomplishment which created mutual feelings of respect and trust. We developed a collaborative conflict resolution process so everyone felt safe when there was a significant disagreement. I made sure that everyone felt supported when the need arose. We developed the attitude that whenever a problem arose or one of us made a mistake, it was an opportunity to learn.
Second to developing strong collaborative leadership skills was developing a program of continuous learning for the team. With money always in short supply we couldn’t afford to hire consultants or send people off to courses. So we developed our own training program. We identified a list of topics that ranged from legislative and privacy concerns, to team collaboration. We voted and prioritized 14 modules and each of us took one module and researched it. My job was to develop a training program on basic curriculum design and facilitation skills. As each team member completed their research they would learn how to design training materials, learning objectives, agendas, and participant guides. They would then participate in a two-day in-house facilitation skills course where they learned creative ways to share their knowledge. One team member hosted a series of “lunch-box” sessions with a variety of expert guest speakers that really inspired the group.
I learned early on in my career that training need not be expensive to be effective. What strategies have you developed to bring learning into your organization when resources are scarce?