June 17, 2011
I have become incredibly fond of our weekly Wednesday night counselor meeting. It is late at night (usually around 10:30 - 11:30). You would think that it would be hard to do anything after a long day, but these meetings help to keep us all focused and excited.
We have them on Wednesday because it is Dance Night and all of the counselors are on duty, so almost everyone can attend the meeting.
After the dance, the counselors get their campers cleaned up and in bed. The counselors of the younger campers read to them and make sure they are down. The older campers are all in their beds with the lights out as well.
We then place members of the leadership team in the camper villages with roughly a dozen Senior Campers with them to make sure that someone is there in case any campers have an emergency. We then release the counselors to go to the Counselor Lounge for the meeting.
8 years ago, Susie Ma’am and I looked at our meetings and found that we did not like them. They tended to focus on details (what the evening activities are) and became like lectures with us pointing out what was not going well. They were also daily, with have of the counselors meeting after lunch every other day.
No one liked them. Everyone left feeling bored and (occasionally) demoralized.
I then had an interesting conversation with a consultant friend of mine that made us think about changing it. He shared an insight that intrigued me: “A senior manager told me that he does not like team members who are ‘problem solvers’. I asked him why not. He responded that ‘problem solvers’ spend their time looking for problems. They get things done, but they need to have problems to solve them. As a result, they are alwayslooking for problems to solve. This can make them overly critical and demotivating. ‘What is the alternative?’ my friend asked. ‘Find people who create environments where problems are unlikely to arise.’”
To be honest, this initially felt like “consultant-speak” to me. It was a cute turn of phrase, but I was not sure it meant anything.
One day, I was thinking about our meetings. As I mentioned before, we spent a lot discussing mistakes or areas of potential improvement. People left flat. Susie Ma’am and I started to rethink how to communicate with our counselors.
We came up with several modifications/improvements.
First, we vowed to praise publicly and coach privately. If a counselor is not performing to our expectations, we will talk with him or her privately, but never in front of others. Once we realized that most behavior that we wanted to improve was specific to individuals and NOT to the entire group, this made tons of sense.
Second, we created a daily report that we call the Lowdown that counselors get every morning. It tells what the evening activities are, who has inspection, who is coming to Man Cave/Friendship Games and all the other details we used to share in the afternoon meetings. I am amazed that it took us as long as it did to think of this. After all, everyone can read!
Finally, we completely changed our meetings. Rather than have the camp meeting every other day, we have one group meeting once a week. Rather than has it in the hottest part of the day, we moved it to the evening. Rather than be critical, we created a celebration of our community and its values.
Here is the gist of the meeting.
Remember, it follows the dance, so everyone is tired and still dressed in their dance attire. We were staring at a lot of neon two nights ago!
Everyone gathers outside beside the Counselor Lounge in a fenced in area with hanging lights. We always have food for them (cookies in week one, ice cream in week two, smoked ribs week three) and they then gather in a circle so that we can see everyone’s faces.
The meeting is broken into 3 big segments with a brief greeting.
After we greet them, we ask them for “shout-outs”. A shout-out is a public acknowledgement of exceptional acts by the counselors. For example, a counselor that misses part of their off-lunch to help a reluctant camper go on the zipline will get recognized by another counselor that was there. Instructors that create new and exciting ways to engage their campers get acknowledged. Someone else may get praised for encouraging a shy camper to reach out to others or redirecting a homesick camper.
This portion accomplishes three things. First, it creates a culture of appreciation. Second, it puts our attention on our intention. Finally, it provides all the other counselors with specific ideas of how to teach better, connect with campers or be creative. If a counselor is praised on Wednesday night for getting at eye level with an 8 year old, we will see dozens of campers doing the same thing the next day.
After the shout-outs, we present awards to the three outstanding counselors of the week: the Outstanding Activity Instructor, the Tiger of the Week (outstanding make counselor) and the Tigress of the Week (outstanding female counselor). We call them “Tigers” in reference to the Tiger Story , (see the article above). These awards are nominated and voted on by the Leadership Team. The Leadership Team member who manages the awardee then gives an introduction that is very specific about why we selected him or her. The leader attempts to keep the name a mystery as long as possible while describing all the attributes of the winner. The winner gets the t-shirt you see pictured.
Once again, we are very intentional and specific in these introductions. We want everyone to know what we value and to celebrate excellence.
The final portion of the meeting consists of short talks by the directors: Leah Ma’am, Garcia Ma’am, Robbie Sir, Shirley Sir, Susie Ma’am and me. These comments are meant to be appreciative and validating. Shirley Sir always shares a nice turn of phrase (e.g., the opportunity of a lifetime must be realized within the lifetime of the opportunity). We conclude reminding them that they are part of a rare and precious thing - a group of people that is united in purpose that also deeply cares for each other. They are generally young and can take mission and community for granted. We want them to savor this place and our purpose.
We leave oddly rejuvenated. Tired, yes, but happy and excited.
Most counselors return with smiles on their faces. I am sure that they fall asleep before the head hits the pillow, but I also know that they will enjoy a sleep well-earned.