How to manage different personality types for a well-balanced volunteer team

April 23, 2018 - 6 minutes read

There’s a house on fire.
As a bystander, you see a few people rushing into the house to rescue anyone trapped in at the cost of risking their own lives. A few people outside the burning house are comforting the victims, helping in some way with first aid, food, and water. Some maintain order around the tragedy, helping to keep the peace. While others, ponder about providing aftercare like shelter, fresh clothes, and money to the victims.

We react differently from each other. Our fears and our desires, drive and motivate us. Our thoughts and actions revolve around these impulses, which develops into our personality.


Understanding personality is key

As a volunteer organizer or field organizer, heading a diverse team of volunteers, relying on personality tests help especially when deciding what role suits certain temperaments best. Here are 2 examples of personality tests that are widely used for a working understanding of temperaments. They’re free, don’t take more than 5 – 10 min, and are a great way to quickly sort your volunteers into personalities that would shine a light on their strengths.

1.The 16 Personalities Test
2.DISC Behaviour Inventory

Understanding personality helps you get the most out of your volunteers. Their satisfaction with what they’re doing improves and the chances of them giving more time will improve too. Win-win!

Conversion funnel for volunteers

It’s all about balance

Working together in a team full of volunteers who are shaped by their worldviews, diverse upbringing, values, personalities and temperaments can cause an occasional challenge in the workplace but it can also be beneficial when it creates balance. It’s important to learn how to appreciate, work with and adapt to different personalities.

Each personality type comes with its own set of skills and talents.

For example, some volunteers are great communicators, thanks to their outgoing personalities and would make important contributions in areas such as making phone calls and going door-to-door visiting voters.

But an affable personality isn’t enough to solely raise money or manage the office with.

Instead, volunteers with analytical personalities would be better suited and are vital for reviewing finances, managing projects and using collected data to make important decisions.

It’s not about pitting one personality over another, but about discovering how each personality type can work in confluence with each other.

How to motivate volunteers

Managing different personality types with norms

But, don’t let that blind you, Everyone on your team is an individual first! While understanding their personality is the first step, the next should be setting a few norms in place that the whole team adheres to without sacrificing their individuality while being team players. The norms you create set a common behavioral baseline, enabling individuals to be team players while retaining their individualism.

Emphasize a higher purpose. Everybody needs to grasp why we’re doing what we’re doing and believe that it matters. That underlying sense of purpose is (ideally) what motivates everyone to make an earnest effort individually.

Make manners matter. There will always be room for disagreement but to do so in an environment that provides a feeling of safety, where teams can challenge each other, with honest critique and put forward polar views in their pursuit of a common goal, is healthy. Encourage your team members to ask challenging questions and look for unusual solutions This will happen only if there is a culture of civility in the way they disagree with each other. Additionally, a damaging interpersonal behavior is off-limits. That means no personal gossip, no back-channeling, no undermining, and no shaming or blaming.

Introduce a culture of Inclusion. If civility helps everyone feel respected by their team, inclusion is what lets everybody feel equally valued and empowered. In meetings, for example, this norm might dictate that all team members speak for roughly an equal amount of time. Those who really listen to each other feel respected, included, and at ease sharing decision-making power evenly.

Dependability and Performance Clarity. The simple tenet of always doing your part while honoring your commitments is fundamental to any cohesive team. Each team member has to know their own role, be completely committed to it, and understand how it supports the roles of the others. This is what gives team members confidence in their value to the group and in their colleagues’ contributions.

Hiring the next great field organizers

As the program manager, part of your job is to effectively balance all of these things to help your volunteers work as a team, be successful and well-rounded in their service goals. While the ability to accurately identify personality traits is important; also important is knowing how to manage and position various personalities and skills across project teams.