November 15, 2017
November 15, 2017
Over the weekend of November 4th, two of our employees, Lisa and Emily, volunteered at a Grand Rapids event called Weekend for Good. The following is a post from Emily on her experience at the event.
The historic Trust Building in downtown Grand Rapids is home to a unique space called Start Garden. Taking up nearly the entire second floor, Start Garden is filled with twists and turns that house desks, tables, chairs, and couches. It all looks and feels very industrial, modern, and energic. Things happen here. Around every corner is space for people to work, create, and innovate.
On the particular Friday I ascended the stairs to Start Garden, 220 volunteers and 18 local nonprofits were gathering for a weekend-long event. Each year, Grand Rapids GiveCamp hosts the event, which brings volunteer developers, designers, and content strategists together to build technological solutions for local nonprofits. But this year, something very special happened.
For the past few years, GiveCamp had been calling the event “Code for Good.” They mainly focused on back-end work, which included many more developers than designers. This year, AIGA West Michigan decided to put on a similar event, called “Design for Good.” It just so happened that the two organizations picked the same weekend for their events. So, they decided to join forces and create Weekend for Good—a mix of development and design volunteers that could offer more complete solutions to nonprofits.
To break it down, Weekend for Good is the ultimate team project. Teams of 8–12 volunteers are tasked to complete a project for a nonprofit. This might include building a new website, app, or database, or refreshing their branding. And it all happens in a single weekend. By 2 p.m. on Sunday, the projects are completed and nonprofits walk away with free solutions to help them better serve the community.
I ended up assigned as the Team Lead for the nonprofit Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council (GGRWHC). This amazing nonprofit uncovers, preserves, and celebrates the rich history of women in the Grand Rapids area. They give a voice to women who are otherwise forgotten in our history and share their stories with the community. Our challenge for the weekend was to move web hosts, build a WordPress site, refresh their brand, and reorganize their site structure.
From participating in an incredibly effective team and observing how other teams operated, I left Weekend for Good with a new understanding of how teams work best.
I have to attribute much of our team’s success to our effective communication. As soon as I met with our nonprofit rep (prior to the weekend event), I emailed my team everything I knew about the project and shared a few docs with them over Google Drive. This way, they would be prepped and ready to jump in and ask good questions when we met on the first day of the event. Once at the event, we enlisted multiple tools to keep in touch and orchestrate our tasks.
If you don’t know, Slack is a messaging app. It has different “channels” so you can split up conversations by topic, or send a direct message to a colleague. GR GiveCamp created a Slack workspace for teams to use during the event, then teams could split up and create their own messaging channels.
Slack was super helpful to us, as we could share images through it and get opinions on design elements without interrupting everyone’s focus. Without speaking aloud, we could check in with our teammates and add minor notes and reminders to our chat. Slack even allows you to “pin” messages, so you can easily find them later.
The space our team worked in at Start Garden had whiteboards for walls. Having all that space to plan and organize was super helpful for keeping everyone up to date on our tasks. It was the perfect place to enact the Kanban method.
On the whiteboard, we drew a table with four stages: ready to be worked on, in progress, in testing, and complete. On multicolored sticky notes, we wrote down tasks and categorized them by color. As we worked, the sticky notes were moved through the table until they were completed. Not only did this tracking method ensure every little task was completed, but it was very satisfying to physically move a task through to completion.
Unfortunately, working in person isn’t always an option for teams in the real world, but I have to emphasize how smoothly things go when people are working in the same room.
Whenever you can, I encourage you to meet with collaborators in person. Just work in the same space. You don’t need to talk the entire time or share everything you’re doing, but being face to face makes it so much easier to get any small concern worked out. Getting those small questions answered as they arise keeps the entire project moving forward.
When I initially met with our nonprofit rep (prior to the weekend event), I figured meeting with her and the other members once per day over the weekend would be enough. We’d just need to check in, show them our progress, and adjust from there.
We were very fortunate to have an incredibly invested nonprofit. Three to four members showed up every day—not just to check in and offer their opinions, but to sit with us, work through issues, and generally just be available to talk about the project.
It certainly was not a requirement for the nonprofit members to stay as long as they did each day, but they sacrificed time from their weekend to help in any way they could. Having them around made this experience better for our team and better for them. With the members in the room with us, we could ask about anything that came up during the project—large issues or small details.
Plus, the small conversations we had with our nonprofit simply because we were checking in quite often, led us to a fuller understanding of their work and what they needed from us. We were able to grasp the scope of the project much quicker and more completely than if we had been trying to figure it out on our own and only showing them completed tasks.
It's common practice to sit down with a client, have an initial conversion, and run away to your private cave to complete a project on your own—only showing the client the completed version. In my experience, this method leads to frustration and rigidness when the client is not 100% satisfied and requests revisions. Setting up more meetings or agreeing to a very open, back-n-forth dialogue throughout the project can eliminate confusion and vastly decrease the number of revisions to the final draft.
This may be a great place to bring Slack into play. With your client, create a Slack channel specifically for discussing a project. Then, whenever there’s a message in your channel, you both know to answer it quickly to keep the project moving. This way, you aren’t waiting for your message to be found in their inbox. There’s an unspoken urgency to answer chat messages that isn’t as prevalent for email.
Throughout all of the preplanning, Team Lead training, and long hours of the actual event, the Weekend for Good leaders emulated excitement and positivity. Every single one was always smiling, checking in on teams, and asking how they could help.
The Weekend for Good leaders did such a good job of hyping everyone up that even at 3 a.m. when I was finally home Friday evening, I found it hard to calm down. Everyone’s genuine happiness at the event filled me up and lasted all weekend and beyond. (As you can tell by this impressively long blog post, I just can’t stop talking about Weekend for Good.)
Everything is more enjoyable when you are excited about it. Whenever you can, find something to be excited about in your work, and share it with your coworkers. Make games out of everyday tasks. Take a minute to appreciate the work you do and why you do it. Life’s too short to drag your feet to work every day. You’ve got to find the good.
Some final Weekend for Good stats: 1 weekend. 220 volunteers. 18 nonprofits. Over $370,000 worth of donated development/design work.
As the Weekend for Good leaders said to all of us at the close of the event, we did good for those who do good.