Building a Strong Staff Team: Part I - Setting Expectations

Besides being outside all day, instructing amazing activities, and helping kids go on great adventures my favourite part about working at camp was the strong sense of community I felt with the other camp staff. Camp employs such a diverse group of individuals.  These individuals come together with different skills and backgrounds but also with similar goals, interests and passions! Some of the strongest friendships I have made have been with a team of staff at camp.

Most of our seasonal staff are high school and/or college students. Some are returning staff members but every year there is a fresh crop of greenhorns.  They are eager to please, but also nervous and before experiencing working at camp are not entirely sure what to expect. By setting clear expectations and creating a community of encouragement, friendship and positive growth, you can transform a group of young individuals into a very strong and powerful team of summer camp staff.

Explaining Expectations

As fun as it is, camp is not for everyone. Your new staff need to understand the incredibly long hours, the amount of energy that is required every day, and the limited time off.  Your staff need to understand that you will expect them to go above and beyond.  It's just the life of working at camp.

Besides the huge time commitment, they should also be interested in spending a lot of time outdoors and enjoy being around children.  It always surprises me when people come out to work at camp and then reveal that they don't actually like working with kids! During the interview process, make sure each potential staff member understands what you expect of them. Explain to them what a typical week of working at camp looks like, then ask them, if after hearing all of that, that they are truthfully (and positively) able to meet these expectations.

Make sure you share the positives of working at camp, along with the negatives. Ask your potential or current staff to weigh out the pros and cons of working at camp and if they truly feel they are up for it. Working at camp is a big commitment. The type of camp staff you need are the ones who are more than willing to make that commitment.

Review Staff Policies

Go through your staff manual with potential staff members during the initial interviews. Make sure they understand the policy and if you decide to hire them, have them sign a statement saying that they understand and will comply with the policies. Give them a copy of the staff manual and review it during staff training.

Although it seems obvious, you have to make your zero-tolerance policies on drugs and alcohol at camp very clear. Make sure they understand appropriate dress codes, your policy on smoking, dating relationships at camp, curfew, and whether you will allow things like tattoos and piercings. Be very specific on this. List recommended camp attire such as shorts that reach the knee and shirts that cover the stomach and shoulders, no beer or drug advertisements on t-shirts or open toed shoes, etc. The more detailed you are in your policy the less surprises you’ll have during the summer.

Expect Professionalism

Even though our staff are young and want to have a fun summer, they still need to act professional. Parents and group users need to feel confident that their children are in good hands. Obviously no parent wants to leave their 8 year old with a scowling, rude and irresponsible cabin counsellour.

Tell your staff that you expect them to be cheerful, polite and helpful around parents, user groups, campers and other staff. They need to show every day that they are a hard worker, team player, and that they have a positive attitude. In addition to good behaviour and work ethic, they need to look professional. Let them know that you expect them to be well groomed and neatly dressed...with the exception of pajama day!

Positive Affirmation

Team up new staff with returning staff (who already know your expectations) and encourage a relationship of mentoring and helpfulness. During staff training, share your own experiences to better prepare your new staff and have your returning staff do the same. New staff might feel more comfortable learning from a peer than their boss. Plus, teaming up your new and returning staff will allow your team to get to know each other better, accepting the new staff with the old.  Ask your returning staff to encourage the new staff.

Be careful not to scare away great staff by hounding on them, making demands and constantly communicating rules and staff policy. Set your expectations, set your expectations HIGH, make sure your staff know what they are, and then move your focus to encouraging them and rewarding them for a job well done.

Building a Strong Staff Team Continued....

Stay tuned for Part II of  Building a Strong Staff Team.  We will expand on the topic of setting your expectations on staff behavior and how you can help them develop into strong and passionate leaders at camp!