Make Team Management Easier With SharePoint Team Sites

Anu NevalainenI’m a member of the Board of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Animal Protection Association, which is the second largest member association of the National Animal Protection Association of Finland. There’s a huge amount of tasks and responsibilities, both big and small, a Board member has to deal with. In order to stay organized and remember all the tasks at hand, we need loads of files, practices, lists and a shared place for all the information. In a volunteer-based non-profit, it’s not possible to demand as strong and time-consuming commitment from the chairperson as would be the case in paid work. I already revealed in my earlier blog post that we’re now using SharePoint team sites to make our work easier and remove some of the management burden. Thanks to donation from Microsoft, we can even use SharePoint for free. In her blog post Anna told about her experiences in leading volunteers. I will now give a few concrete examples of how SharePoint team sites can benefit your association.

Our team site has a SharePoint library, where we keep all our Board agendas, meeting minutes and possible attachments. The files of a certain meeting are easy and fast to find, as every single file contains the meeting date and the participants as metadata.

We also have a calendar in our team site, and we use it to save all our events. Earlier, the events we participated in were only mentioned in the Board’s meeting minutes. Now all the events are listed in one place and the calendar fields tell us, who was in charge of the event and which volunteers were there to help out. Our webmaster can always pick up the most interesting events and publish them on our website. It’s now much easier to report your actions, and compared to our old way of work, the improvement is significant.

The task list helps me to remember my current tasks, as I log in to the team site, I can instantly check, what I should do and when the deadline is. We update the task list during Board meetings and whenever something urgent comes up. Earlier we might have just forgotten to finish certain smaller tasks, if the person responsible didn’t remember to do the task. The task list makes management and the work of the chairperson a lot easier, when you can share the responsibilities and you don’t have too many balls in the air at the same time. Work becomes more autonomous and the chairperson doesn’t have to remind of pending tasks all the time.

The Excel spreadsheet listing all our volunteer animal care shelters was transformed into a SharePoint list and the column headings became the metadata fields. We’re now able to use filters to find the currently active shelters; if the shelter is passive for a certain time period – the family is on holiday, for instance –, we can input this information to the list as well. This way we don’t have to bother the volunteers with additional inquiries, because the filtered views in SharePoint handle all automatically.

There’s also a list for all the homeless animals we take care of: what animal is it, who the contact person is, when the animal was handed over to us, which animal shelter the animal is now at, what veterinary treatments have been taken so far and where we found new home for the animal. When we are writing our annual report, it’s easy to count, how many animals we took care of and what species they were. We can easily examine all the other history data as well.

We use the lists to cross-link data. For example in Animals Handed Over to Us list, you’re only allowed to choose a shelter that is registered in the Shelters list. In the Meeting Minutes and Agendas library, you can only choose meeting dates that are already in the events calendar. This practice minimizes mistakes and the information will be consistent. The search features are more advanced in the SharePoint list than Excel, and we can collaborate smoothly, as everyone can edit the rows at their own pace. The different devices we’re using do not cause problems anymore, and the lack of Office software or the wrong software version won’t prevent collaboration. It’s also very easy to export the lists to Excel, if you want to draw graphs or print the listing.

The writer is in love with SharePoint, OneNote and all the other Office productivity tools. She’s also Cloudriven’s Head of Customer Service and Chief Trainer, who bakes the most delicious cakes.

Leader Plays a Big Role in Meaningful Volunteer Work

Anna CajanusFour years ago I was studying in Santiago, Chile. During my studies, I got to know a few really great people also from El Salvador, which is a small, beautiful developing country in Central America. A year later, when back in Finland, I invited them to join my birthday party. Of course they couldn’t travel across the world, but this invitation led to something bigger.

I found out that one of my friends was starting a Teach for All initiative in El Salvador called Enseña por El Salvador. Due to Finland’s good reputation in education, I asked if he wanted some help. In the beginning of 2012 I gathered up a team of Finnish teachers and teachers-to-become and later some Salvadoran living in Finland joined us as well. This has been a truly meaningful project but as the beginning of the Enseña por El Salvador training has been postponed several times, it has at times been challenging to remember the meaningfulness.

Further on, even when the work is meaningful it sometimes requires some tasks that you don’t enjoy that much and – especially in voluntary work – sometimes you might have something more urgent to do. Here, the role of the leader plays a big role.

I find that it is important to clearly define what our goal is and what concrete actions each of us needs to take to achieve this goal. This helps us to define our roles and responsibilities. When defining the roles and responsibilities, the (voluntary) workers should be encountered as individuals: what kind of ambitions and wishes they have, and what do they want to learn and gain.

We track the desired actions, which helps us to clarify what we are doing and connects also the not-that-inspiring tasks to the meaningful goal we want to achieve together. As the goal might seem distant – and as in our case, it is moving further all the time –, it is essential to celebrate the little advancements. We have, for example, made traditional Salvadoran pupusas together to thank ourselves for the good work so far. This last sentence actually includes two more important tools for motivating: good food and saying “thank you, great job” for the tasks well performed. (Ok, maybe good food is not that important in working life, but who wouldn’t prefer a meeting with healthy snacks to one without.)

I feel that I haven’t always performed as well as I could have, partly because of lack of established processes. Luckily our team members are such great professionals with a big heart that they continue working with the project nevertheless.

Even though this project is run by volunteers, the same management principles apply to working life: we need to set clear goals and concrete actions to achieve the goals as well as define clear roles and responsibilities. And you should never forget to celebrate the achievements and say thank you – and provide good food.

The writer is Cloudriven’s expert in organizational development and holds a Master’s degree in Technology. Whenever she’s not working, she volunteers to provide education for kids in El Salvador, and to create a better world through scouting.