Before my wife and I decided to become church planters of Coastal City Church, I was a camp director for 15 years.  In that time, I was able to move away from doing any staff recruitment at job fairs.  In fact, we did very little promotion of open positions to hire approxiamtly 30 seasonal staff, depending on the year.  Job Faris are expensive and, I believe, ultimatly not necassary.

Our camp staff culture was based on development of the individuals, and this was the key to our success in staff retention, recruitment and  ultimatly growth in our summer camp attendance.

If you are in leadership at a camp, you must focus on leading the staff and let them focus on leading the campers.  And, the better the leader, the better the entire organization.

Now that I’m not leading at a camp, I have time during staff training seasons to be a guest faciliator or consult with you.  You can contact me here.

First I’ll share some tips, then further down this post I’ll share some actual activities.

TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS SPECIFIC FOR SEASONAL SUMMER CAMP STAFF:

  • Start to build your dream team during recruitment.  If you are a church camp, hire based on spiritual gifts.  All camps should avoid promoting your best counselors to be supervisors.  I often found that my best counselors were the best for a reason.  I don’t believe a camp’s pay structure should be based on position.  When I started at camp I inhereted a system where supervisors where paid more than counsleor and the culture made counselors feel like they had to “move up” after a year or two or not return.  Counselors should be your cream of the crop, the best of the best…and you should pay them accordingly.
  • Develop an organizational structure of your staff so no person, including the camp director, has more than 6 direct reports.
  • Build time into each day of training for supervisors to meet with the team they lead.
  • Require your supervisors to perform one-on-one evaluations with everyone on their team starting in week one of staff training.  Don’t wait until the campers arrive.
  • Utilize the Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. (I lead a workshop called, The Love Languages Go To Camp if you’d be interested in that)
  • Prior to camp, create agendas for meetings your supervisors will have with the teams they support. The agenda should start the meeting with a time of sharing and conversation to strengthen trust. Then, have the agenda guide the meeting through the camp’s core values. For example, our first core value is Safety First. Our first agenda question, “Does anyone have any safety concerns?” We do this with every core value. (Check out my post on this topic)
  • Assign sleeping accommodations to resident staff so supervisors and the staff they support don’t sleep in the same space.
  • Model well. More is caught than is taught.
  • Train both ends of leadership. The leading and the following.
  • Use the DISC profile assesment to help your leaders and staff relate better to onw another.
  • Bring in returning staff 24 hours before new staff. Bring them up to speed on changes. Get all of the “but we’ve always done it that way” out of their systems. I also give out assignments of who will be leading what during training. I require all supervisors to lead one thing during training and encourage all other returning staff to do the same.
  • On the first night of all staff training, cook together. We use a menu with lots of different items that need prepped. Individual Pizzas with all kinds of toppings, taco bar, pasta bar, fondu etc. While everyone is cutting veggies, rolling dough, making sauce etc…the are free to talk. Check out my post on Distracted Listening to see why this is effective. In the past we have also created scavenger hunts and hid the ingredients all over camp. This accomplished a camp tour for new staff at the same time. You can do this with a large staff. We’ve done this type of activity with up to 50 people. Our summer staff is around 30.
  • Play lots of games in the first 24 hours. This both teaches games to lead with campers, but it develops the staff as a group.
  • I ask returning staff not to tell stories of “last summer” until day 3 of training. I don’t want to create false expectations for the new staff based on stories they hear without context. Also, new staff can feel overwhelmed with the idea that they are never going to be part of “this place”.

TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS SPECIFIC FOR SUPERVISORS:

  • Have each supervisor write a letter to each staff member they support. The letter is to be given to the staff member at the end of summer. It should include promises and goals about the kind of leader the supervisor wants to be.
  • I avoid the low ropes course during training my supervisors. They’ve all been through it. And, most of them are trained facilitators by this point.
  • Make training hands on and active as much as possible. Telling isn’t training.
  • Read my comment about the popcorn kernel experiment I gave in reply to a question on a previous post.

ACTIVITIES:

EVERYONE HAS A PART

I use this to introduce the training session on leading and following.

  • Have each small team (the supervisor and the staff they support) work together on this.
  • Give each group a box or two of dominos.
  • Give them 10 minutes to create a domino design using anything they want located within the space you are training in. Encourage them to think of having one domino knock down two, using different heights, incorporating an incline, etc.
  • After 10 minutes (or less if they finish early) have each group watch each masterpiece unfold.
  • Now, the conversation can go forward. Here are some questions you can ask.
    1. Did every domino have a role to play?
    2. What would have happened if I would have removed specific dominos from your sequence?
    3. What would have happened if 1 one domino would have “decided” to fall sideways instead of in the direction it was encouraged to go?
    4. ?? What Question Would You Ask ?? Please comment below.

COFFEE TALK

  • In an empty coffee container, place several pieces of paper with fun questions and quick activities.
  • At the start of various training sessions, meals or meetings, pull one of the pieces out.
  • Have everyone answer the question or do the activity as a group.
  • Suggestions:
    • What superpower do you wish you had and why?
    • Who is someone famous from history (fiction or nonfiction) that you would want to have dinner with and why? What would you order?
    • Everyone write a note of encouragement to the person on your left.
    • Write letters of appreciation to the kitchen and maintenance staff.
    • ?? What Suggestions Do You Have ?? Please, comment below

THE WELL DRESSED STAFFER

  • On the ground, place two pieces of newsprint. Each one large enough for a person to lay on and be traced around.
  • Now you have two silhouettes. Label one as “Leader” and the other as “Follower”.
  • Have the teams “dress” and equip each “person”. Everything they draw on the paper has to represent a quality they agree a person should have and demonstrate to be successful at leading and following.
    • For example, a hat could represent everything happens under the covering of truth. Hiking boats represents that a leader should manage by walking around, supervision from observation.
  • If you are a Christian camp, you could also reference the Armor of God as a scriptural example of this activity.
  • Conversations questions you can use:
    • Is there anyone on our staff that only ever serves in one of these capacities the entire season? The answer here should be no.  If they staff bring up a position explore that role to discover the times when the person is in each category.
    • What do you feel is the most important character trait on the leader?  The follower?
    • Aren’t good followers really being good leaders when they follow well?
    • ?? What Question Would You Ask?? Please, comment below.

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