Group Coordination/Management Advice


Here is a very short laundry list of issues to get things done if you are running a non-profit/voluntary initiative.
If you are like me, you enjoy starting new initiatives and endeavors, often with a bunch of other people involved as well. This little write-up may help you to make sure things progress well in coordinating such initiatives. Most things may seem straight forward or not very important, but believe me, following these patterns will make your life much easier.
Good luck with your initiatives, and let me know if you have some further advice that I might include here!
Alexander Nareyek

Discussions are great but useless if nothing comes out in the end

Discussions in forums etc are important. But in the long run, discussions must be driven toward conclusions, and results must be put on record. A main document, e.g., by way of a Wiki, stating the current state of results, design decisions etc. is very important for this. This does not mean that results cannot be revisited, but you need some way of documentation to grant progress.

Discussion forums should only one measure - distribute concrete tasks

Discussions are often spontaneous, and you may want to put some people on specific tasks for more elaborate analysis, designing drafts etc. One suggestion is to have single persons prepare specific discussions for a specific date/week. They become publicly responsible for this topic/event, are interested that this turns out great, and will also contribute to others' events as a kind of moral obligation because the others are wanted to contribute to their own event too. This was only one idea, and there are certainly other/better ways. Having sub-groups with specialized responsibilities is another good idea, but remember that having a sub-group does not automatically mean that the corresponding work will be done without reminders, deadlines, and so on.

Members want to contribute - but they need direction

I think it is safe to assume that everyone who joins your initiative is interested in contributing. However, people in general are very very bad at starting tasks for which they do not have a clear idea how to approach it or what the task actually is. Postings/e-mails asking for "some" contributions or very open questions are very likely to be ignored (at least, after the initial euphoric phase and discussion bursts after joining). Not because people do not like to contribute but simply because they are perplexed on what to do.
NO: "Please add something"
YES: "Please prepare a comparison between approaches A, B and C regarding features X and Y"
This doesn't mean that you have to come up with all tasks and conceptualizations for them. Brainstorming the necessary tasks/steps is of course is valid task to give out as well!

Clear responsibilities

Everybody goes the easy way, which often means that they are happy seeing other people working in the group, and only dropping a comment now and then by themselves. This means that if you address a number of people, everyone will be willing to assume that the others do the requested task.
NO: "Can someone please..."
NO: "Hi X and Y, please..."
YES: "Hi X, please..."

Deadlines and reminders

Members are of course busy with other things besides your initiative, and it is easy to always shift the initiative tasks further back. Deadlines and reminding people of forthcoming deadlines are essential!
NO: (not mentioning a time frame)
NO: "...when you find some time to do so"
YES: "...until Tuesday, 6th of July"
YES: "Please remember that I need ... from you until Tuesday, 6th of July (three days from now)"

Publicly thank people and compliment them for their work

Praise for good work (especially if it's publicly visible), mentioning concrete names, is of course important to keep up a great atmosphere and to motivate them for further activity. Praise for someone, however, means no praise for everyone else, so pay attention to cover everyone who contributes. Prizes/titles/etc are also well worth exploring, and provide an additional incentive for your members to contribute.

Identify leaders for sub-groups

If your initiative reaches a particular size, you won't come around assigning leaders for specific sub-tasks or areas. Choosing the right person is highly important. Don't choose someone who shouts out most loudly for the position, or who has the best technical knowledge for the area; leadership abilities are key. Let me stress the importance of this choice again: Activity and progress of the sub-group will be directly proportional to the leadership abilities of your leader! This may sound exaggerated, but clearly reflects my experience.


Consciously checking and revising your coordination practice every some months is definitely a good idea!

Last update:
March 8, 2008 by Alexander Nareyek