We are operating COLLECTIVELY. While conventional business management relies on “managers” who are individually focused on the business’ objectives and linked with the business professionally and fiscally, an all-volunteer organization’s staff are inherently of a more ephemeral sort - when life throws us a curve, our volunteer commitments are usually the first we have to give up. Here, a brief Google Doc paper describes how to organize with so-called circle management (external website) to achieve a large-manpower task.

The idea behind circle management, or cluster management, is that the circle becomes the working unit in some degree and the members of the circle - while each may have their own specialization and focus - are in close communication about their individual efforts, practices and commitments. They cross-train each other and have some capacity to step in for each other.

Although some volunteer managers are habituated to good management practices from professional work, they are often incomplete in some sense - lacking certain habits, time, inclination, or essential resources. So even at management level, a circle management concept can bolster the individual shortcomings volunteer managers must face.

While there is always the ‘committee risk’ - “when more than one person is responsible, no one is at fault” - it is outweighed by the constant real risk to a volunteer organization of losing a key player.

Related to the idea of organizing in circles, is the idea of “capturing” effort; collecting it. In a circle, the individuals cannot keep knowledge in their head. They must let the organization capture it so it can be accessible to the others. This applies to every single volunteer every hour they contribute! We are motivated to make our contributions count, so it is only reasonable that the organization expend effort to gather the fruits of our efforts as early and as often as practical.

Sometimes, the capture of progress is a feature of the work. As I type a report in a document, each word of progress is being recorded. Sometimes the capture is designed - I complete a form as I gather information. Sometimes the work is not so readily recorded, and a more contrived effort is needed - a recording that can be transcribed, an amanuensis to track another’s actions. In our work-from-home milieu and worldwide distribution, there are abundant challenges to the capture challenge we will have to face.

Businesses capture work with business systems of various hated sorts; time sheets, accounting forms, personnel reports, and other documentation. We do not want these in our volunteer hours, so to the extent they are necessary, we have to take pains to make them as minimal and convenient as possible. But we must also create systems such as quality assurance, to ensure they are completed regularly and properly.