Every day, we work with marketing and membership teams from fraternities and sororities, nonprofits, and membership associations. One thing they seem to have in common is that their teams are small and spread thin. While we pride ourselves on being an extension of our client’s team, it still often falls on committees and volunteers to execute on the plans and do the day-to-day work of content and social marketing. In many cases, these volunteers are spread out all over the country. Coordinating schedules, collaborating, and hitting deadlines is difficult to do, let alone to do well. That’s why we were so impressed when we met Kristine Medina at the Fraternity Communications Association Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. last month.
Kristine is the editor-in-chief of The Jade Times, the national newsletter of Delta Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. She leads a team that has grown from four volunteers to a team of 22, working remotely throughout the United States. Together, they produced a quarterly newsletter that is now a monthly online publication. We invited Kristine to write a guest post for us, sharing some of her strategies for working with remote teams of volunteers and she happily agreed. Thanks Kristine—the mic’s all yours!
How to Engage and Train Creative Warriors from Afar
By Kristine Medina, The Jade Times Editor-in-Chief
To engage a remote creative team, you have to prepare each person to create…as individuals and as a team. That starts with identifying people who have a true passion for your organization. They’re the ones you’ll be able to count on when challenges come your way. So my first piece of advice might be to find yourself a few creative warriors.
Establish a Strong Foundation with Core Values
Once you have your core team, work with them to build a strategic plan that supports your mission. Seek out reliable experts, resources, and tools that can serve as a foundation for your team members in each location.
With The Jade Times, we began with four members: one who inspired ideas, one who provided resources to pursue ideas, one who experienced leading and one who was to lead. The mission for the Jade Times –– “to build relationships and strengthen bonds of Delta Phi Lambda’s sisterhood through the celebration of culture, community, education, and women.” was molded in 2014 and motivated us to look into our past, present, and future to understand why the newsletter was established, how it serves our organization’s mission, and how we might best engage our audience and team members.
Create a Solid Routine and Practice
Now that you have established your foundational team and mission, the next step is to create a process to turn words into action and knowledge into wisdom. As a newly established monthly online publication, the most important objective for the four of us was to set a routine and stick with it. We started with refining or creating clear job descriptions, guidelines, policies, and procedures, tailored to meet the publication’s mission. Sticking to a routine was rough at first because we were like children who didn’t know how to swim being thrown into the deep end of a pool. We learned quickly that we shouldn’t strive for perfection, but for progress. Constant practice has allowed our team to work through all the triumphs and tragedies of the publication process.
Recruit Driven and Loyal Team Members
When taking on work, monetary compensation seems to be a big factor in how hard a person pushes herself or himself to accomplish tasks. Volunteers, however, are an intriguing bunch. Recruiting and retaining team members with any organization can prove to be challenging without incentive. You have to ensure a team member’s loyalty from the beginning in the application/interview process. Be sure to clarify the intent of the organization and give way to freedom of communication (without falling from grace or failing to follow the process). Ask potential team members what they would like to learn from the experience and how they would like to contribute to your organization. Be transparent about the process and what your organization needs from its team.
At The Jade Times, the only form of compensation for the team is great experience and genuine gratitude. As volunteers, passion is what tends to drive us to dedicate a portion of our time to make an effort toward a greater good. We are dedicated female leaders, both undergraduates and alumnae, who care about our mission and strive for the betterment of Delta Phi Lambda.
Adding to Your Team
When it’s time to add to your team, pass the torch, but don’t expect new team members to automatically know what’s required and what to do when they begin working with you. Each individual has a different way of communicating and taking in information. Teach and train your team members as early as possible, and continue to refine your skills as a team throughout the process. My biggest mistake was not considering training prior to assembling a team.
Being accessible and having effective communication are key to progressing as a remote creative team. Challenges are inevitable when you don’t have the advantage of in-person conversations, however, you do have a wide variety of tools at your fingertips, from email and phone, to social media and live video. Software and tools are constantly being created to change how we communicate and collaborate. I encourage you to explore what’s out there and share with your team what you discover.
Initially, our team relied solely on Gmail Chat. Now, we hold our staff meetings via Google Hangout, which allows us to share our screens in real-time to display documents and websites. We receive ongoing training through an in-house AP style and writing workshop series streamed live through Hangouts on Air and YouTube. You should check them out, they’re open to the public.
Be the Sensei and the Student
Diversity and inclusion are the driving forces behind how I lead and teach my team. I also consider what I can learn from the team. I came into my position as the editor-in-chief last year in August and still had plenty to learn.
If you keep yourself open to it, you will learn as much from your team as they will from you. Once you give them the resources and tools to work independently, you can turn collective ideas into action in pursuit of the organization’s mission as a team.
A final thought. Don’t forget about professional development. Even a team of volunteers will need to seek opportunities for independent learning. Nurturing individual skills will also serve the needs of your organization. I attended the Fraternal Communications Association annual conference in Washington, D.C. to learn more about how I can support our members and stretch my own influence. That learning opportunity led me to sharing my experiences in this blog post – I hope it’s been helpful!
Have a similar challenge or experience? We’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you have questions or collaborative ideas for Kristine, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.