Creating a Healthy Feedback Culture

Ever have staff tell you that they want more feedback and then when you give it, especially if it’s negative, their feelings get hurt? This session at the ACA Annual Conference tackled one of the hardest and most important skills as a staff manager: giving feedback. The session shared techniques to create a culture of feedback and show how to facilitate opportunities for a healthy exchange of feedback among your camp team.

This session started with an open conversation with participants about the things they would like to learn and talk about. Here are some questions camp professionals wanted to dig into:

  • How often should you give feedback?
  • Is it timely feedback?
  • How to give feedback to staff so they can improve without crushing their spirit?
  • How to create a culture of trust and accountability?
  • How to have those challenging conversations?
  • How to give feedback up and on the same level as you? Get them in the mind frame of “Hey, have you noticed that this happens? I have some ideas!”
  • How to take feedback from staff who are younger or lower rank?
  • How to teach your staff how to receive feedback, both negative and positive?

What do you do to give feedback? Keep in mind that camp directors and managers are intimidating to young staff. When they see you, they are worried you are going to tell them that they are doing something wrong. Your feedback is not just what you say, but also your non-verbals, gestures and actions.

Hey, can I talk to you?

When you say that to your staff, it has this weight that might make staff feel like they’re in trouble. One suggestion to eliminate that intimidation is to come up with a code word that is less intimidating, like “Hey, can I blueberry with you later?” You want your staff to be able to approach you so they can speak with you and get help. By recognizing that this might cause them anxiety and giving them a tool to take some of the pressure off, you’ll be opening up lines of communication and building good relationships with your staff.

They can also use this code word to speak with their co-workers. Pressures and emotions can run high when a staff member has to confront another about something. Using a friendly code word like ‘blueberry’ relieves some or even all of the negativity, helping to create a culture of open and accepted communication amongst your team.

Trust and Accountability

Start using these words at staff training and around camp. Here is an activity you can use at your staff training:

Divide your staff into 4 groups and designate the 4 corners of the room as separate segments, each segment with a large piece of paper. In each of the 4 corners, have them write down the needs and expectations of the people they serve in their job.

  1. What are the expectations your campers have of you? You’re fun, super cool, friendly, helpful, will take good care of them, etc.
  2. What are the expectations of your camper’s parents? You’re responsible, friendly, a leader, will make sure kids are safe and that you’ll take care of them, make them brush their teeth, put on sunscreen, etc.
  3. What are the expectations of your fellow staff members? Trustworthy, pull their own weight, accountable, kind, be helpful, show up on time, be a friend, etc.
  4. What are the expectations of your director? You’ll do your job, have your back, keep a line of communication open, ask for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed, obey camp rules, be responsible, etc.

When you do your staff evaluations at the middle or end of the summer, you can ask them about this again. “How are you meeting the expectations of your campers? Share one or two ways you’re meeting the expectations of your fellow staff members?” You’ll find that your staff will be able to confidently give you some answers and they’ll feel good about themselves and the work they are doing.

How often should you give feedback?

The presenter suggested 3 formal sit downs between your staff and the camp director throughout the summer. One formal sit down after the first week or two of camp, one in the middle of summer and at the last week of camp.

The first one is more of a ‘how is it going?’ and to make sure fears are calmed, find out how they need help and give them a little bit of encouragement. The second meeting is where you can push them a little more. Ask the staff to come up with something or a skill they want to master by the end of the summer. Maybe it was about being more patient, connecting with staff or learning how to play the guitar - have them pick one thing for them to work on for the rest of the summer. At the end of the summer, you’ll be pleased to see what they were able to accomplish in one month. The last meeting can really be like a high-five exit interview, thanking them for a good summer.

Giving feedback…

Make sure your staff feel comfortable speaking with you by encouraging them and providing an atmosphere they feel safe in. When they give their answers, dig deeper. For example, if they say they don’t feel confident ask them to give you an example of a time at camp that made them feel insecure and then discuss how they can leave those situations feeling more confident. Give them action points and encourage them to keep coming to you when they need to.

Using VOMP

Verbalize: Man, the staff lounge is disgusting!

Ownership: I feel like when we clean in the morning it isn’t getting clean enough.

Moccasins: Walk in the other person’s shoes. “Well, I think it’s perfectly clean.” “Obviously our version of clean are different!”

Plan: Make a plan to solve the conflict. “Maybe you could take out the garbage and I can make sure the tables are cleared, every morning!”

Example and Role Playing

Let’s say there was that the staff member who was too loud and crazy - sometimes, even though it is a positive thing - it can scare or intimidate the children. It’s not that they are doing something wrong, they just could do something different.

Methods: Say it was something you used to struggle with too when you were starting out as a camp counsellor. Give them examples of when it’s a good idea and space to be loud and excited and when and where you should tone it down. Choose a comfortable space to have this conversation. Maybe as you’re walking around outside at camp, not necessarily in an office where it’s more intimidating.

As a director, knowing which things to tow the line with or which things to be more direct with and give them the solutions.

About the presenter: Ruby Compton

Ruby Compton's outdoor adventures started with many childhood hours sitting in a dogwood tree in her front yard. Her schooling brought her indoors long enough to earn a degree in Recording Industry Management from Middle Tennessee State University with Minors in Entrepreneurship and Electro-Acoustics.

After college, Ruby was a part of the summer leadership team that launched a YMCA overnight camp at an already well-known regional day camp in Nashville, Tennessee. Having given up her career in the music business, Ruby was then lured into the world of environmental education at Nature's Classroom Atop Lookout Mountain in Alabama where she learned the incredible value of nature exploration, and the importance of fostering growth in employees.

After a paddling trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Ruby moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina to serve as the Summer Camp Program Director at Green River Preserve for four summers.

In August 2016, Ruby transitioned to a Program Director role with Muddy Sneakers, an experiential education organization that partners with schools to take public school fifth graders into nature to teach them science. When she's not hiring staff and coordinating schedules, she can be found trail running, hiking, geocaching, paddling and backpacking with her dog Murphy.

Finally, if her voice sounds familiar, it may be because you have heard her podcasting about camp staff training with Beth Allison and Gabrielle Raill on the CampCode podcast. Ruby believes that camp is the best professional development tool in the world and that good managers create fantastic workplaces. She hopes that you will enjoy supervising staff as much as she does.

Categories: Aca Annual Conference