Being a PPC: building your team

Following last week’s blog on managing my work/life balance as a PPC, I’m writing this week on building a team in a constituency.

I have some expertise in working with volunteers – in the past, I chaired the Parent Teacher Association at my child’s secondary school. Leading a group of volunteers, who each had different amounts of time to give and various reasons for giving that time, was a challenge. Nothing like playground politics among parents!

A team in a local party can be similar – everyone is a volunteer, some with masses of time to give, others with very little time. All are motivated, but have a range of issues behind that motivation. Inspiring your volunteers is a balance between accepting what time they can offer and not asking too much, and learning more about them and why they would like to be involved.

In many constituencies, we run skills audits, finding out what talents people have to offer to pair with what jobs need to be done. I think it is really important to ask what people want to do. It could be they are highly skilled in one area, but that is their day job, and what they really want to do as a volunteer is something different. Having those discussions is important. Allowing people to give time on their terms and in the way they wish is key.

Often, in building teams, we assume people wish to do something: a prime example is assuming an accountant would like to be Treasurer or on the fundraising team. That may be the case, but it might also be the case that person would rather lead canvassing teams and be out in the fresh air.

Another thing I’ve learned about team-building over the years is that teams are fluid. It is not like paid employment, where there are terms and and people give notice. With volunteers, a family crisis, health concern, or falling out with another team member can mean the team changes overnight. Accepting that fluidity, and building resilience and capacity in your team, helps overcome setbacks which are bound to occur. The essence of volunteering is that people come, and people go. I am always sad when someone has to step back from a role, as friendship and trust builds up with your team members, but I have to accept time is given freely and without conditions attached. That is the world of working with volunteers.

Finally, team management comes in different styles. I prefer a more collaborative approach; other local parties seem to have a top-down approach. Understanding a management style can help the team work together more effectively. In North Devon, I’m fairly new to the local party as PPC. We have opportunities to revisit these questions of leadership style and to build our team, with the wisdom of long-term party members and the enthusiasm of new members, all working together to win elections and promote Lib Dem values.

That’s what a team is all about.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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3 Comments

  • Rosie Sharpley 8th Feb '19 - 11:17am

    Well done Kirsten ! I wanted to contribute last week but I was worried I might preach.
    I was so lucky to be a candidate on both occasions where there was a team made up of experienced and dedicated people and indeed a mix of skills . But it is more than that. It comes to all year round dedication to residents in your area and building on the work done at a local level by councillors and campaigners. Accepting of course that there has to be a “top-down” approach as you call it, over the election period in order to win. I recall reading many years ago something Ed Davy had written about his first campaign. By polling day he was in a position to go and help in other constituencies.
    As a PPC you need to know when to lead and when to be led. There is no point in going out to buy the camera the day before polling day. You need a plan you need people you need money. As someone who was a Councillor for the best part of twenty five years I can think back and sadly realise the real impact of austerity on the lives of people and those who seek to serve them as volunteers and paid employees. (I worked in the NHS for forty five years and as a Magistrate for nearly thirty.) It was mentioned last week how difficult it would be going out to talk to people as politicians are no longer trusted. I recall canvassing the weekend after the expenses scandal was revealed. People were glad to see us . They wanted to talk and be listened to and yes perhaps “kick” a bit. Not really 😉 !
    People need representation now more than ever before . They need a “voice” . They need to know they matter. From where I am the Lib Dems have doggedly adhered to that principal, especially over the past months. We are more than teams and structures. Yes, use them as tools but do not forget what really binds us together.

  • Paul Holmes 8th Feb '19 - 12:39pm

    Rosie – I think you are mis-remembering about Ed Davey’s win in 1997. As I recall it he had fully accepted that his mobile Constituency activists would be helping throughout the election period and on polling day in the next door Target Seat. For the final weekend push he had therefore ‘roped in’ a host of friends and family from across the country to come and help with the literature blitz that weekend. By that final week however he was told that his neighbouring Target Seat was going to win and his local activists could stay -so his campaign had more helpers than he had planned for. All of which meant his campaign could just tip over from what would have been a very good second place to a narrow win.

    The whole thing was a classic of how good Targeting used to be run. It does also reinforce your point about the need for all year round committment and good planning. Well in advance not last minute ‘Ooh an election has been called we can win’ -even though nothing about the local levels of organisation, fundraising, campaigning and votes won in the preceding 5 or 10 years would remotely indicate that to be a possibility.

  • Rosie Sharpley 8th Feb '19 - 1:34pm

    Paul , was it really 1997 ? I still remember the gist of Ed’s inspirational pep talks though about not being selfish and be willing to go and help wherever we can. Kingston have always been wonderful at that. I have no doubt that experience such as yours and others I’ve been aware of over the years will continue to be an ongoing inspiration to today’s activists.

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