Leaders: Breaking Down Silos and Engaging the Unengaged


How do you get the right volunteers on the bus and in the right seats without losing the whole team?

In the book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus, in the right seats.

Setting Goals

The goal is to first start with a great group of people, then determine what you are going to do with them. This is never easy, but it feels next-to-impossible when you work with a volunteer workforce.

Jim juxtaposes this with the “Genius with a Thousand Helpers” scenario, where the leader determines where he or she wants to go, then finds people who can implement the vision.

Many leaders, when faced with an organization of mediocrity, think it is their job to bring the energy, vision, and focus so the organization can move forward.

This is especially true when they are leading in a volunteer-focused situation.

Your Magic Bus in 7 Steps

If you are working with a volunteer force, here are some simple ways you can help people find their right seat on the bus without abandoning the journey.

1) Take Inventory

The most important thing you can do in a volunteer organization is to get to know your people.

  • Who is just holding down the fort?
  • Who has been marginalized?
  • Who has energy and focus?
  • Who doesn’t?
  • Who is hanging around, waiting for someone to ask for their help?

Take time to get to know the people in your sphere of influence individually.

Discover their passions, their dreams, their time and energy availability.

2) Who is Already in the Right Seat?

Some people are already in the right seat.


  • Love what they are doing
  • Aren’t bringing negative energy
  • Are ready for something new

Affirm these people. Let them know they are valued, and find ways to thank them regularly.

When you are ready to move forward, this group might be the first to sense the new direction you should take.

(Note that once you finish getting everyone in the right seats, you will have to circle back to this group to make sure they are still in the right places.)

3) Look for Sticky Seats

Look for the people who have created silos of power within the organization. Most power silos exist because someone was very passionate, had a great vision, and created a great program (or ministry).

Every program or ministry has a life-cycle, but without redirection, leaders of success can tend to build walls around their project so no one else would break it down.

4) Educate

The best way to help people in power silos find new direction is NOT to tell them you have a great idea for them to follow (Genius with a Thousand Helpers).

Instead, imagine you are sitting next to them in a car

  • They are in the driver’s seat.
  • Instead of driving for them, point out the road signs.

People who have created a successful program (ministry) in the past can do so again if they understand the new climate.

Show them the world as it is today.

5) Look for Slippery Seats

The people on slippery seats keep passing into your view and out of it. They are definitely on the bus, but they feel like they have no place to sit.

You might find them volunteering in multiple areas, being generous contributors without any real responsibilities, or they might be showing up at most functions and just criticizing.

6) Listen

The people in the slippery seats are on the bus for a reason. They get value from being part of your group. Take time to get to know them as individuals –

  • What keeps them coming back?
  • What is their character like?
  • What is their energy like (do they have time and energy to give)?
  • Are they introverts or extroverts?
  • What is their love language (gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, service, touch)?
  • How do they learn (audio, visual, kinesthetic)?

These are details that will help you identify what seat on your bus this person should be on.

You will find leaders, excellent managers, and individual contributors in these seats.

Help them identify what level of leadership they are ready for, and then find a place for them.

7) Keep the Door Open

Once you have moved leadership, broken down the power silos, and helped the people in the slippery seats settle down, you will discover you have some empty seats. And you will find some people who don’t want to be on your bus anymore.

Live a life of grace. Help the people who want to leave find a great place to use their energy.

The door isn’t just open so people can leave. Also keep the door open so that new people can come in. Take time to get to know them, similarly to how you got to know the sticky and slippery seat people, and help them find their place.

Once you have people settled onto the bus in the seats they were designed to be in, a vision will begin to materialize. It won’t be just your vision. You have fantastic people in your organization, and you have positioned them to use their gifts to the best of their abilities.

As they move together, they will sense the bus is supposed to take, and everyone will be headed in the same direction.

Are you in an organization that needs new direction? Have you done an inventory to discover who is on your bus and why? How have you dealt with power silos in your organization? What ways to you engage the people on the “slippery seats?”


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Kim Martinez
is the Lead Writer and Innovator at Deep Imprints

She teaches leaders to lead with influence in a world that distrusts leaders
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Skype: kimkmartinez

Image Sources:  physical-therapy.advanceweb.com

4 responses to “Leaders: Breaking Down Silos and Engaging the Unengaged

  1. I do all of this except one thing. I should not have the wrong people in the first place. In our ministry, we have actually adopted Dave Ramsey’s TWELVE step hiring process but have tailored it for our ministry, vision, needs, and the service we offer, in addition to the consideration of their gifts. This process, depending on the person can take from 40 days to 3 months. In that process we have what we cal a KUP Project, which means Know U Profile. It’s almost like a job application. It covers spiritual gifts, their talents, personality types, what part of our 12 point vision are they the most passionate about, and their experience. Plus it has an inventory of over 700 skills they can check off, a 21 values section where they check the top 7 most important values, and a section where they list their top 12 greatest needs so we know what to pray for and about there personal life. We meet and talk daily in one-on-one settings, in team settings (to see if their is chemistry between the people), and with the leader they will be working with. I know you’re probably thinking, “Who would go through all of this for a ministry where no one get’s paid?” I’ve learned long enough from people like John Maxwell and Rick Warren that if you have such a compelling vision people will follow you anywhere, especially where all the leaders in the ministry really care for the people and they are really sound on what the Bible actually teaches. So we have a awesome balance of truth and love. We have hundreds of people following are ministry. But as the lead minister of the group, I can only work with 12 other people at one time. The rest of those followers are given one of those other 12 leaders as they complete training and birth their own ministries. They follow the whole 12 step process all over again.


    • Oh, and the reason we do all of this is because of our huge following. In the beginning we had no system for recruiting and we got all the wrong people and the ministry lost a lot of those folks. So we had to put together orientations courses and vision casting presentation so that they knew what we believed, valued, and what God was wanted us to do to change our world.


  2. Thanks Ricardo – sounds like you have a fantastic process, and I agree – when you are doing it right, people are able to volunteer with energy. The trick when you get a great intake is actually applying it, which it sounds like you have. (I remember going through a six week class, filling out multiple forms, only to have no one follow up on the process to actually plug us into ministry). Thanks for doing such a great work for the Kingdom!


  3. Pingback: How Should You Live? - GROWGENIC : GROWGENIC·

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