10 Tips for building strong and engaged action teams

Valeriano Ramos

Children's building blocks stacked upOne of the toughest challenges community coalitions face is building strong and engaged action teams. The action forum sets the broad framework for achieving specific goals, but  does not always address key elements of sustainable and effective action.  Action teams may have a general sense of goals and tasks, but it is often the case that these groups of dedicated individuals could benefit from additional support for implementing action ideas. An "Action Oversight Group" can be a resource for action teams and can help them stay on track.

These are some tips I have learned over the years in my work with parent leadership groups, community outreach and organizing groups, and civic engagement leadership teams that can help groups make progress on action ideas:

1. Set clear expectations for each action team

what needs to happen, by when, and who is responsible.  If people know what they’re expected to do and by when, they are better able to develop a roadmap for achieving specific tasks and goals. Always reaffirm how the work relates to the larger vision and strategic goals set during the dialogues and action forum.  This allows the team to continue building commitment and engagement.


2. Identify two leaders per team

Co-chairs can share the responsibility of keeping the action team on course and moving. These individuals should be chosen for what they bring to the team, such as communication skills, credibility with others, knowledge of the community, and the ability to delegate.  The co-chairs should focus on coordinating the team rather than taking on action tasks, although this can vary.


3. Delegate, delegate, delegate

You can't do everything yourself - everyone on the team should contribute to the work of the group.  Delegate based on the skill set, interest, and experience of each team member.  For example, don’t give someone the task of contacting a newspaper about a story if that person has never dealt with news media.  To build skills in the team, you might co-delegate to people whose competencies complement each other.


4. Foster a creative, innovative environment

 Welcome new ideas and ways of doing things. Micromanaging can often get in the way of encouraging collective leadership and a shared commitment to outcomes. Use the strength that comes from the diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experience in your team to try new things if other things have not worked.  Creativity is the door to possibilities.


5. Continue recruiting volunteers

Even if people were not involved in the initial dialogue-to-change program, they may be interested in participating in an action team. Allowing new people to join brings in new energy, a new network, greater inclusion, and a stronger sense of ownership of the effort. Be sure to bring new members up to date so they can participate fully. Your vision should always have room for new ideas and ways of reaching for established goals without losing focus.


6. Promote team pride

Build a team image that celebrates your group’s commitment, vision, and achievements by creating a motto, song, banner, or logo that captures what you’re striving for. Also, recognize everyone’s work and accomplishments.


7. Keep in touch

Keep everyone informed through regular emails, calls, or meetings to assure everyone that progress is being made.  Keep track of the work being done by creating a timeframe of key objectives and progress on them. Action team should meet regularly, but sometimes conference calls and emails can work, especially for those who cannot attend every meeting.


8. Host regular meetings with all team leaders

When team leaders come together, they can assess their progress and address challenges collectively. This builds team spirit and “collective leadership” that keeps everyone engaged. It also helps people draw on the experience and expertise of others, so that the team is working from a position of shared strength.  It cements a common sense of purpose and commitment to a common vision.


9. Connect the teams to resources

Be prepared to provide information, contacts, and resources to your team. Come to meetings prepared to address challenges and concerns. For example, if you notice that there is a need for certain types of leadership skills, contact voluntary action centers, university extension offices, or other groups that can provide expertise, coaching, and resources on building these important team assets.


10. Celebrate progress

Keep the work of the team in the public eye by engaging media and communicators who will share successes with the community. Be sure to connect your community projects to the national movement to strengthen democracy and promote social equity.


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