Building a Strong Staff Team - Part III Communication & Strong Leadership

General - Young AdultsPreviously in the Building a Strong Staff Team blog series we covered the importance of setting expectations, staff behaviour and developing a Staff Mission Statement.

In this last segment, we will discuss how you can continue to develop a strong team by encouraging open communication, rewarding hard work and setting an example through strong leadership.

Listen to your Staff

Now that you’ve laid down the law, recited your expectations and reviewed staff policy it is time to open up discussion with your staff. Help them to feel like they can take some ownership over the outcome of this summer and let them have a voice in what happens at their camp. Every person works and learns differently; make sure you are open to learn how you can best accommodate each individual on your staff team.

Most camps have a staff meeting weekly, if not daily. Make sure you leave time during these meetings for an open discussion. Ask your staff if they have any suggestions in any aspect of camp. Review the day or week of camp prior to the staff meeting and discuss what worked and what didn’t work. This is also a chance for staff to share stories and positive experiences with other members of the team.

Create an environment where staff feel comfortable voicing their concerns. Encourage them to be proactive by setting ground rules for this process. For example: if a staff member would like to submit a complaint about something they must also present a solution. This will avoid having too many negative conversations during staff meetings. Or, you can also ask the staff member to share their concern and open it up to the group to brainstorm ideas for a solution. This can be a great team building exercise and again, it gives your staff responsibility and that feeling of ownership over what is happening. People become passionate when they feel they are truly part of something.

Give Praise Where Praise is Due

“Hey, I have the perfect job for you!” he said to her. “You’ll have to work long hours for weeks on end with very little time off. Things will be busy, stressful at times, and it’s expected that you’ll be able to give 100% at all times. Also, we’re going to pay you next to nothing.”

Umm...anyone eager to sign up for this?

“Oh yeah, I should mention, you will have the time of your life, you will be forever changed, and will want to sign up again next year.”

This was a conversation I overheard at the end of last summer. My friend, who is a Program Director at a wilderness camp located near the Rocky Mountains, was attempting to recruit a friend-of-a-friend to work at his camp the follow summer. She took the job.

No one ever said working at camp was easy. It is a big deal for young people to commit their entire summer to camp. With long hours, low pay (or no pay), and limited time off it is easy for them to become tired, distracted or even discouraged. There is nothing they could use more than a heart-felt pat on the back for a job well done.

The American Camping Association gave a suggestion for rewarding your staff throughout the summer. Set up a reward system, like a raffle, to help them stay focused on positive behaviour. When supervisors see a staff member do a good job or go above and beyond, they can reward them with raffle slips. Put all of the slips into a box and make a draw at the end of every week for a reward. Prizes can be things like an extra two hour break, a delivered pizza, or gift cards.

Telling someone you appreciate them, that they are doing a good job, and that they are an important part of the team will always have a positive outcome. Empower your staff by reminding them of all the benefits that come with working at camp, let them know that you understand how hard it is, and that you are so grateful for their commitment. Showing your appreciation will help make their jobs fun, give them an extra boost of motivation on those tough days, and increase staff retention year after year.

Be a Strong Leader

Your staff team is watching you. They see you as a role model. Be a good one.

Act how you want them to act. Be understanding, fair, patient, enthusiastic, and encouraging. In most cases camp your camp staff will be young and this is the first time they’ve had to be responsible for anything, including themselves. They are looking for your leadership. Teach them to be strong leaders, guide them through their successes and help them turn failure into positive personal development.

Thank you for reading this series: Building a Strong Staff Team. If you have any ideas for staff training, team building exercises, or suggestions on how to develop a strong staff team please email us at