Any time there is a position, whether paid or volunteer, there should be a written job description. It spells out the expectations and responsibilities. It should reduce the confusion and miscommunication. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t. Why is that?
At times, the written job description does not match the real situation. But let’s say that the job description is up to date. The volunteer coordinator and the volunteer literally have the same page of job description. You have several other possibilities for confusion:
There is a difference in interpretation. A volunteer may be bending over backward to do a job as he or she understood it, while the supervisor expected something totally different. It’s painful on both sides!
Solution: Ask what is going on. Don’t assume, especially when you think you have discussed this before. Explain what you expected and find out why you are getting different results.
There are overlapping jobs and job descriptions. This happens when you have a multitude of volunteers (instead of a few paid staff members, who are more likely to have specific roles and clear lines of supervision). Volunteers will jump in to do far more than their specific job — especially when they are conscientious and don’t want anything to fall through the cracks. They can step on each other’s toes.
Solution: In ministry, we need to communicate more. We need to let one another know why we are doing what we are doing. People who communicate are better equipped to find a way to work in overlapping areas and fill the gaps with a minimum of personal friction.
Volunteers are unaware of the job descriptions of other volunteers — or even that other positions exist. This also crops up when a new program is created without involving or informing a leader whose ministry is caught in the cross-current.
Solution: Keep in mind that job descriptions are not a private matter between an individual volunteer and the supervising leader. Other people negotiate the terrain — needing to know who does what, who has a role, who needs to be asked, who will have the details. Job descriptions don’t have to be widely distributed (which probably wouldn’t help anyway). The information, though, can be distributed it bite-sized chunks that help people create a mental map of all the moving gears in your volunteer apparatus.
Bottom line: If you notice that communication and information are common elements in the solutions, you are on target. Church volunteers work together best when they have solid, reliable information. New things don’t take them by surprise and they don’t have to guess at intentions.
Job descriptions don’t replace communication. They themselves are a small piece of communication in a much larger mosaic of giving and receiving information. Use job descriptions as a starting point. Then get the communication flowing.