Scaled Volunteering

Last week as part of the Fidelity Cares group, I led a team that built a greenhouse at the Elm Street Middle school in Nashua  It was a pretty intense day.  It felt really good to give back to the community using a skill that I normally only employ at home.  One of the Fidelity Community Relations coordinators knew that I did a lot of construction stuff on the side (see tailgate box) and so thought I would be well suited.

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Overall this was challenging.  This was your typical DIY kit.  I am really not a fan of these.  They dumb it down so much to simplify shipping and assembly, that they actually make it more difficult.  Examples: There were no lock washers, the ‘square bolt’ channel system is crap, the base kit was a different size than the actual greenhouse, etc.  Some of the design was cheapened too; the roof vents were flimsy and had an awful design for the lower cross beams, the roof and side panels were held in by caulking but we needed to cut several panels, squaring the unit was near impossible.

The idea for these kits is that the basic 2-3 person homeowner team could complete the unit in 3-4 days.  Mom, Dad and I could have done it in a weekend, but we work really well together: There were a LOT of these projects over my first 21 years of life.  But scaling a project like this that has very linear directions to a large team was particularly difficult.

Fidelity gave me a team of +30 to assemble the structure in about 4 hours.  Some teachers had already built the base.  So I split the directions and assigned groups of 4-6 to assemble pieces and bring them to the unit for final assembly.  My favorite project management expression is that “9 women can’t make a baby in one month”.  Meaning that sometimes you can’t just throw bodies at a problem and have it scale efficiently.  This was one of those situations.

After the first day we finished all of the framing assembly.  I came back a few days later and installed the doors.  Last Friday, Sara, Cristin and myself helped one of the science teachers Denise Rock, install the roof and wall panels.  I’m proud of what we accomplished and I hope the kids enjoy and learn about how the hydroponics work.  But I also learned about employing volunteer teams on projects and how non-profit work for large groups needs to be compartmentalized.  I think if more projects contemplated large teams and how to cater to them, there would be a lot more volunteering by big corporations.  If I had started from scratch, I would have gamified the 8 teams and structured the work around building micro-teams and healthy competition.  It stoked a lot of ideas on how to do this for my business…more to come.

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About Josh Rutstein

I am an aspiring entrepreneur and hopeful political candidate. Father of 2 very special girls and passionate American. I snowboard whenever possible and follow a 20x mentality for exercise. I also play golf and ultimate frisbee and am a die hard New England Patriots fan and season ticket holder. Everyday I wake up wanting to make this country a better place, someday I hope to actually succeed.
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