Archive for the ‘Writings for Class’ Category

When the work is structured in such a way to separate thinking from doing, to assign one person to think, while another person must produce based on someone else’s thoughts, it will breed discontent.  As Matthew Crawford puts it in Shop Class as Soulcraft, “wherever the separation of thinking from doing has been achieved, it has been responsible for the degradation of work” (p. 37, Crawford 2009).

The development of the organization as a machine and the separation of thinking from doing took shape in the turn of the century.  The movement into scientific management, sparked by Frederick Taylor, led the rallying cry for separating thinking from doing.  As Stewart’s analysis in The Management Myth uncovers, the benefits of Taylor’s restructuring was falsely reported (pp. 27-42, Stewart 2009).  Whether there were any substantial benefits for production is debatable, but what was clear, was the inter-group and inter-class conflict which arose from this type of restructuring.  As Crawford eloquently describes the transformation to assembly line factory work, “scattered craft knowledge is concentrated in the hands of the employer, then doled out again to workers in the form of minute instructions needed to perform some part of what is now a work process.  This process replaces what was previously an integral activity, … animated by the worker’s own mental image of, and intention toward, the finished product” (p.39, Crawford 2009).  This is exactly what was occurring in our simulation.  The design workers and the production workers were being asked to perform their part of a work process without a vision of, or a personal connection to, the final product.  As Crawford further explains, Taylor’s recommendations for restructuring did not necessarily increase the efficiency of labor in terms of time, however, they allowed factory owners to reduce the costs of labor, because extracting the cognitive elements of the job allowed the factory owner to pay the production workers less.  The thinking was monopolized in a few high paying jobs.  As Taylor himself put it, “’the full possibilities’ of the system ‘will not have been realized until almost all of the machines in the shop are run by men who are of smaller caliber and attainments, and who are therefore cheaper than those required under the old system’” (p. 39, Crawford 2009).  Those men in the shop, our production workers, felt this degradation of their work, and resisted.

With the rise of menial “non-thinking” jobs, there was also a new industry built up around the “thinking” side of the organizational chart.  Stewart, who looks at emergence of the management consulting field explains that, “Strategy took hold because it provided an intellectual superstructure that explained and justified the functioning of ‘top management’ in the new M-Form corporations” (p. 155, Stewart 2009).  I found myself using the word “strategy” and “strategic” throughout the simulation.  Thinking that any decision I made, being President, was clearly “strategic”.


Crawford, M.  (2009).  Shopclass as soulcraft: an inquiry into the value of work.  New York: The Penguin Press.

Stewart, M.  (2009).  The management myth: why the experts keep getting it wrong.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.





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Back to follow up from the National Conference on Volunteering and Service for a moment….

Besides the professional volunteer managers and national service members, there were for profit companies and celebrities at the conference.  As the service movement gains popularity, and volunteering is seen as cool, many companies and brands are looking to partner.  Last fall, the Entertainment Industry Foundation worked with individual celebrities as well as TV producers to promote service through their programming and PSAs.  In most cases these partnerships are win-win.  The celebrity or company gets good PR and the organization has greater visibility and may receive donations, volunteers, or free marketing.

At one of the first sessions that I went to, CauseCast showed this video from Ben Stiller:

This video and the type of civic activism that it represents is seen as a win for the service movement.  This model rests on the following assumptions:

Assumption: celebrities will be perceived as more trustworthy than the average joe and therefore a better spokesperson for your cause

Assumption: having a celebrity promote your cause will help your cause

Discussion / Reflection Questions:

Are those assumptions always correct?

Is Ben Stiller a volunteer leader?

Most volunteer policies say that you can not volunteer to do the same work that you do for pay.  For instance, a County social worker can not volunteer to screen homeless clients.  Ben Stiller is an actor and he is now acting on behalf of a cause.  Is he being paid?  By whom?

If he is not compensated are there labor law considerations?

Can you be paid or receiving material benefit and still be a volunteer leader?

Is the definition of volunteer leadership more about your actions, or about your intentions?

Is the concept of “being” the same as intentions?

Do celebrities who are promoting causes while also promoting their own brand muddy the waters of volunteerism or is this a great innovation in the social sector that changes the paradigm of giving?

That’s a lot of questions I know, but I have far more questions when it comes to this model of volunteer leadership than I have answers.  I would appreciate your insight or suggestions for other reading on this topic.

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cover of "Helping" bookI consider myself to be a helpful person. In my professional work I am in a service job within the volunteer field, which is all about helping.  I am always asked for and offering advice.

How much do I really understand about the dynamics of helping?

Although I was socialized to be helpful from the time I was very small, I do not ever remember a formal lesson in giving or receiving help.  This is why I chose to read Edgar Schein’s book, Helping, for a recent assignment for ODKM.

Schein identifies two different frames in which to understand the helping relationship:  theater and economics.

By thinking of helping in terms of economics, Schein highlights two very important principles: communication is a reciprocal process that must at least seem to be fair and equitable, and relationships are based on scripted roles that are culturally defined.  The second principle is the one that I had thought about before reading this book.  From an early age we are taught to be an equitable member of society giving and receiving help: holding the door for others, saying please and thank you, asking for what we need in a polite and scripted way.  However, I was also aware of complications of the first principle, that communication should be fair and equitable.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, unfolds the communication that happens in a doctor’s office between two different families.  In one family, the child is prepped before his doctor’s visit and encouraged to ask the doctor questions about the diagnosis.  The child’s parents are leveling the playing field between the doctor and the child by encouraging the child to take an active role has the patient.  In the other family, the cultural and family norms dictate that the child shows deference to the doctor and does not speak unless directly asked a question.  The child accepts his “one down” position in the doctor’s office.  Unless the Doctor makes an effort to make the situation more equitable by starting in a humble inquiry mode (asking simple open ended questions), he may not be as successful in helping the child because he will not be able to understand the child’s symptoms and what problems actually need to be addressed.

There is a lot of attention to the first principle in the social work field as well.  I have worked within a County government human services department for the last four years.  Even though I am not a social worker, I have observed the practice of social work and have been exposed to different approaches.  One newer approach is called Asset-Based Community Development.  This approach intends to restore face to community members who have been labeled as being in need of help.  Schein’s analysis of the social economics at play in helping relationships reinforced my belief that an asset approach is the best one for building relationships and ultimately for solving community problems.  From this approach, you see the client as someone who has value and is in need of help to bring that value to light.

One of the peculiarities of my line of work which came to light in reading this book is the confusion over offering help and asking for help.  Since I work at a volunteer center, it is my job to respond to email in which someone is both offering to help and also is asking for help.  Basically, it is our role to help people figure out how they can help.  Sometimes when a potential volunteer emails us, they are emailing in the mindset that they are offering help.  Since we are in the business of helping potential volunteers become volunteers, our response is often that we can not use their help, but can help them find a place where they can help.  I think it would be interesting to look carefully at the language that is used in negotiating this dynamic.

How have you seen the social dynamics of helping play out?

What aspect of the helping relationship could volunteers and volunteer managers better understand to improve their working relationship?

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At the National Conference on Volunteering and Service this morning, Beth Kanter and Allison Fine introduced a new model for volunteer leader engagement (though that is not how they referred to it).  Kanter and Fine, in their new book, The Networked Nonprofit, describe a new phenomenon that has accompanied the rise of social media.  They coin the term “free agent” to describe social media savvy and socially minded folks who raise awareness, money, support, or elicit action on behalf of a cause or organization which they support.  These free agents are able to mobilize their networks using free tools for causes they care about.

With the rise of social media, there are new ways of connecting to each other and new ways for individuals to demonstrate leadership.  Social media savvy, well connected folks can leverage their online networks to support a cause that they are passionate about.  Or, as in network weaving, individuals can play a critical role within their social network by connecting people and ideas to generate new partnerships and action towards social change.  In the first example, which Beth Kanter and Allison Fine refer to as “Free Agents”, the individual is often front and center.  He makes a commitment, speaks out about his cause, or even pledges to ride naked (almost!) in the DC area if his connections will follow him in his effort. (see video for a great example)

Most of the time the individual is moved to act, but may or may not have extensive knowledge of the cause or solution he is trying to help.  I see the growth of free agents as a push back against the professionalization of the service movement.

How do these free agents fit into the overall picture of the service movement?

Are free agents the volunteer leaders of the future?  How do nonprofits embrace free agents while also continuing to create more structured opportunities for volunteer leadership?

How does the connection someone has with their online networks affect their relationship to local in person networks?


Network Weaving, http://www.networkweaver.blogspot.com/ June Holley

The Networked Nonproft, Beth Kanter & Allison Fine

The Networked Nonprofit session, National Conference on Volunteering and Service

Nonprofit Network Building, Case Foundation

The End of Nonprofits as we know it session, National Conference on Volunteering and Service

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When I started this class on Leadership I used my own mom as an example of a leader.  My mom is a generous person, particularly with her time.  She gets to know her neighbors and is always ready with advice, something to loan, or to offer a favor.  When we were growing up my mom would recruit my sister and me to shovel the elderly neighbor’s driveway.  As the snow began to melt we would go around to the storm drains and clear the snow so that puddles wouldn’t back up and create unsafe roadways.  As a stay at home mom, or a domestic goddess as she would put it, my mom volunteered at our schools and at programs that we were involved in.

my mom with Ronald McDonald House

My mom at Ronald McDonald House

In addition to giving her own time, my mom is a “network weaver”.  She knows someone for every need.  At the Ronald McDonald House where she now volunteers, she is always recruiting uncles, ex-step-uncles, my dad, friends, and anyone else she can think of to meet the needs of the house.  When her brother came to visit from Washington State, she asked him to meet her at the Ronald McDonald House and when he arrived he got “Tom Sawyered” into fixing the sink! My mom is an essential piece in a healthy vital community.  There are some arguments that tie the growth of nonprofits and professional volunteer managers to the decline of people like my mom and the communities they represent.  There are movements within the formal volunteer sector to do what is called “neighboring” where nonprofits and community organizers actually try to introduce neighbors, assess the assets that exist within a neighborhood, and connect people and resources so that neighbors can work together to address their own problems and fill the gaps.  This model of neighboring and the idea that strong communities are key to preventing social problems and that strong communities are built on neighbor to neighbor helping relationships are connected to the following assumptions:

Assumption: an important part of strong communities are neighbor to neighbor relationships

Assumption: neighbor to neighbor help would be well received

Assumption: local, in person relationships are fundamental

Discussion / Reflection Questions:

If neighbors do not know one another or are even afraid of one another, is it possible to form these bonds?

If my mom moved to a new neighborhood that was not well connected and in which neighborly help was not the norm, how would she be received?

Would she feel compelled to reach out in the ways that she does now?

Is it important that people are connected on the local level?

What if some one is connected to many people around the nation and around the world and is part of a giving network that does not include her own neighborhood?

Is a volunteer leader someone who demonstrates leadership at all levels?

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Recently I heard the word scrum used to describe a type of collaborative problem solving.  Having been on every aspect of a real rugby scrum (I have played every position within a scrum during six years of rugby), I was curious about this metaphor.

To see how this word is used in project development I turned to Wikipedia, which explains the terms origins this way:

In 1986, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka described a new holistic approach that would increase speed and flexibility in commercial new product development.[2] They compared this new holistic approach, in which the phases strongly overlap and the whole process is performed by one cross-functional team across the different phases, to rugby, where the whole team “tries to go to the distance as a unit, passing the ball back and forth”.

My own experience of a scrum does not fit that description, but is perhaps even a better analogy for true teamwork and collaboration.  Here would be my own description of the scrum analogy:

Photo of Madison Women's Rugby by John Tewksbury

In a scrum, each team member has a defined role.  For the scrum to achieve its intended outcome (to win possession of the ball and provide a “clean” ball to the rest of the team for play), each player must execute her own role as well as working together with the rest of the scrum on the timing of their movements.  For example, the hooker has a unique role in “hooking” the ball with her foot under the legs of her team mates to secure possession of the ball.  However, the hooker also needs to be concerned with maintaining a tight grip on her teammates (the props) so that they can put forth a united front and drive effectively.  If one member does not understand her role and tries to do something else, it could endanger all eight members of the team (as well as the competing team for that matter!).  In addition, all team members must remain aware of the movement of the scrum and be prepared to adjust accordingly.  The other team may try to spin / wheel the scrum to gain possession, so each team member has a responsibility for remaining agile and responding to new information quickly.

rugby scrum

Photo of Madison Women's Rugby by John Tewksbury

The scrum analogy is also useful for understanding different levels of system.  I was focused on the individual and each person understanding her role.  In addition, at the group level, the members of the scrum practice timing: tightening their grips and then driving forward in unison.  At the inter-group level of system, the two opposing scrums must line up at a safe distance and at the correct alignment before engaging to prevent serious injuries.  When there are rivalries or disagreements between two teams, it can sometimes show up in aggressive behaviors in the scrum.  The referee in this analogy plays the important role of the regulator, ensuring that the teams are playing by the same set of rules and are engaging the safe and fair play.  In an ideal game, the referee is hardly noticeable, allowing play to continue (employing the rugby law of advantage) unless there is a law violation which could result in serious injury.  There are also larger levels of system in which the rugby players on the field interact with their surroundings.  For example, when the ball goes out of bounds, players will sometimes yell at the fans not to touch it, because they are allowed to bring the ball back into play with a quick throw in if it has not been interfered with from the outside.

The best rugby scrums practice not just plays, but working together, quick thinking, and responsiveness.  Throughout the game we would be continually feeding information to the scrum half about what was going on in the scrum and then making adjustments or reassigning roles as necessary.

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For my Leadership in a Diverse World class, I am supposed to reflect on this question and look at different perspectives and conceptions of leadership. Since my passion involves volunteer leadership, I will focus the question on what it means to be a volunteer leader.  What are different conceptions of volunteer leadership?

In my daily work at Volunteer Arlington (see note in About Me re: this work not necessarily reflecting the views of Volunteer Arlington), we look to HandsOn Network (HON) for our definition of volunteer leadership, so I will start by reflecting on this definition of volunteer leadership.

HON states on their website:

HandsOn Volunteer Leaders drive social change.  All across our country and our world, people are investing their time, ideas, resources and experiences to lead others in service for social good. HandsOn Volunteer Leaders are trained to lead well managed projects and programs that build on community assets, meet community needs, and provide volunteers with a positive experience so that they continue their journey of service.

Some of the explicit characteristics of volunteer leaders in this statement are:

  • They have followers who are volunteers – they are at least partially responsible for the experience that those volunteer have
  • They are trained by HandsOn Network affiliates
  • They lead projects and programs

Also, the page that lists this quote is “Become a volunteer leader” and includes a link to a toolkit for would-be volunteer leaders.  This implies that volunteer leadership is defined by what you do rather than who you are or what characteristics you have.

Why is it necessary for volunteer leaders to have followers?

  • Is it because we define volunteer leaders by how the act rather than their “being”?  If they recruit and manage other volunteers, then they are volunteer leaders by definition!
    • What about someone who leads by example, by being a good neighbor or a good citizen?
    • We have struggled with this in our volunteer award program in which it is difficult to award people who are dedicated to service, but do not recruit or manage other volunteers.
  • Is it because our metrics in the volunteer management field emphasize the quantity of volunteers mobilized rather than the outcomes or the quality of their experience?
    • Since we are required to distinguish between volunteers and volunteer leaders in our metrics, we must define them differently.  In each situation, it is implied or stated that our goal is to increase the total number of both volunteers and volunteer leaders.

What are the effects of defining a volunteer leader as one that is trained by an organization?

  • It implies that there is training necessary to be a volunteer leader.  Does this create an in-group / out-group phenomenon?  Are we creating a divide between for example faith-based volunteer leaders that are not trained by a HON affiliate and non-faith based individuals who are trained?
  • Does the training serve to justify the role of the organization hosting the training?  When an organization depends on grants or donations for funds, they often must carefully and clearly define what their role is.  Unfortunately in defining what their role is, they inevitably define what their role isn’t which makes it difficult to be innovative or to partner with outside groups.
  • As volunteer management becomes a profession (see the Certificate of Volunteer Administration for a look at how the profession is defined), more volunteer opportunities become professionally managed.  With only one certifying organization, one national conference on volunteerism and service, a few professional journals and training programs; volunteerism is becoming more standardized.  For a large number of individuals in the United States, what it means to volunteer and to be a volunteer leader is being defined by a relatively small network of people and organizations.  How will this affect our experience and understanding of volunteerism and volunteer leadership?  What other perspectives are there and with whom do they resonate?

Why are volunteer leaders defined as leading projects and programs and what are the implications of this?

  • With project toolkits and a large number of national programs available through HON, volunteer leaders fill an important role in a network that is being defined and redefined by the staff and Board of HON.  When a volunteer approaches our office we encourage them to see where they fit into an predefined web of options for volunteers and volunteer leaders.  A few of the goals of this approach are to replicate best practices, maximize existing resources, and to eliminate the duplication of efforts.  These are strategies and goals that we are taught by the for profit sector.  Do they make sense for volunteerism?
  • One thing that this system sets up is a self-perpetuating cycle.  Most organizations that rely on volunteers are not working themselves out of business.  The volunteer roles are defined to support the organization, not to replace it or even to eliminate the cause of the organization’s founding.  To paraphrase Robert Egger, volunteers serve the soup, they do not make the line shorter at the door of the soup kitchen.

This conception of volunteer leadership is meant to be a more grassroots approach that encourages individuals to take the lead rather than relying on paid staff to define the needs of a community project and use volunteers to fill narrowly defined roles.

This model is meant to empower more individuals to follow their passions and become volunteer leaders.  Does the model encourage this?

Note: HandsOn Network is a large organization and actually embraces multiple models of service, including one called “neighboring” which is different from what I have outlined above.  The definition I worked with above is one that we adhere to within our work as a HON affiliate, so it is particularly relevant to my experience working in volunteer management.

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