Summer 2019 is one for the books. You are finally starting to catch your breath (sort of). Now what? You are smack dab in the middle of wrapping up one camp season and marching toward the next. We invite you to take a moment to hit “pause” and reflect on the recent summer with regards to staff culture in order to discover growth opportunities for 2020. Now is a great time to develop a plan for inviting staff back and securing their commitment, offering leadership roles and opportunities to advance, and keeping staff engaged in the time between now and next summer. We also offer a “Purpose to Impact” plan so that you can set both immediate and future goals and act in ways in the upcoming months that will move you closer to your vision for staff culture long term. 


Looking back on summer 2019, what were some of the biggest successes and challenges you encountered with regards to your staff? What took away from the staff culture you are trying to create or brought you closer to that ideal staff culture. If you were asked to describe your staff culture in 3 words, what would they be? What 3 words describe your ideal staff culture? By starting here, you will be able to envision what veteran staff you would like to ask back based on the culture you wish to create.



We also encourage you to look back on each staff member, one at a time, and identify what (if anything) was getting in the way of their success.

  • Were there stressors that can be reduced? Was it a challenging co-counselor, not a lot of personal space, lack of sleep, not having a certain variety of food at the desired time, or minimal technology, for example?
  • Were there unmet needs? Maybe a staff member was unable to find time to work on an assignment for a summer class, did not have transportation in order to run personal errands during time-off, or was underage and was unable to hang out with the majority of staff?
  • Or were the hard skills required to do the job lacking? Could it be that a staff member was missing technical skills to be at the archery range or climbing wall? Was a counselor working with a group of campers that were too young or too old for their strengths?
  • Maybe there was a deficit in intra- or interpersonal skills? Could it be a staff member was short on the confidence and patience required to maintain control over their camper group? Was someone charged with being the director of an activity who would have been better placed as an assistant because they lacked the maturity and ability to give feedback to their peers?


Once those things that prevent staff from being successful have been identified for each staff member, we provide a way for you to sort them into one of four categories based on their combined levels of competency (both hard and soft skills) and willingness to do the job. For each quadrant shown below, we offer ideas for engagement, advancement, and commitment that can guide a conversation with individual staff members as part of the process for inviting them back to your staff team next summer. We recognize that there are nuances to factor into conversations you will have with staff members based on their entry point to camp (former camper on staff, return staff who started camp as a counselor, and first-year staff for the recent summer).*

(Mayer & Dufresne, 2009)

The staff members who are both highly capable and more than willing in their roles are without a doubt the rock stars on your team. For this group, engagement may look like setting up monthly Zoom meetings to problem-solve or get buy-in with regards to your staff culture. Ask for their input on your cell phone or time-off policy, ways to welcome new staff, or to brainstorm program ideas for next summer. Bring together an alumni panel to share their testimonies of how working at camp made an impact in their career or life.

For this group, explore advancement through new or different leadership opportunities in key staff positions and what support is needed to set them up for success. Help locate any training or certification offerings that are required to do their job or have them join you at a conference to promote both personal and professional development. To get their commitment for the following summer, send specific reflection questions and a re-application (with a deadline) to discuss in a follow-up conversation.

There is much compassion for those staff who are willing to do their job (and try really hard) but are lacking certain skills. Engagement for this group is a conversation about past successes and opportunities to improve. Under what circumstances were they at their best this past summer? When thinking of advancement for this group, find a place where they can be successful. Does this person need a change in age group or activity area? Or is someone better suited in a support role than as a frontline staff member? It may be that another job altogether is the best option. Help a counselor at an overnight camp find a job at a day camp or connect them with an opportunity in your community to learn skills that can be brought back to camp the following summer. We also recommend finding a mentor for staff in the incapable-willing quadrant. Alumni may be a good option to take on a role of coaching a staff member to reach their full potential.

Hands down the most frustrating staff are likely to be the ones you know can do the job, but for one reason or other, choose not to. This group represents the capable and unwilling subset of your team. The first (and hard) question to ask yourself is did you provide good support and coaching for staff in this category? If your answer is no, then it comes back on you for finding ways to make this happen in the future should it be determined by both parties that they will return next summer. For yes, and especially if staff are persistent in wanting to come back, then it is important to put ownership in their court and have them set performance goals for their path to improvement. It is also a good idea to discuss how they will be held accountable for being a positive member of next year’s staff team. We advise finding a mentor for staff in this quadrant as well — someone who can be another voice to help them follow through with the goals they establish.

Last but certainly not least are staff who are both incapable and unwilling. These are the staff who make you cringe and are extremely toxic to your camp culture. We strongly believe that if you do not want someone in this category to come back to camp, then they should have been let go before the end of the summer. This may seem harsh or you may not be in that place now, so this can be a good goal to have for three or five years out. If your leadership team had a part in the reason why these staff members were still at camp, with or without coaching or providing support, then they will have to deal with them again the following season. This may move your admin staff to make those hard decisions sooner than later! Similar to the capable but unwilling staff group would be to put ownership on them to come up with a plan for their devotion to making improvements before returning to camp. Assign a mentor to assist with the steps to take in order for these staff members to be given another chance.


Finally, we offer the following “Purpose to Impact Plan” for you to start plugging in both short- and long-term goals that will move you closer to the staff culture you envision. We invite you to add or edit as you see fit to the chart below!


Mayer, M. & Dufresne, D. (2009). Willing and able: The commitment to excellence. Retrieved from

Kim Aycock, MST, has 30+ years of experience blending the skills of a master teacher with the knowledge of a seasoned camp expert. She trains camp staff at all levels and speaks professionally at regional and national conferences. Kim has the ability to connect with and motivate learners of all ages through her interactive and innovative presentations. Kim serves as the co-chair of ACA’s Project Real Job Committee. More information can be found at her website:

Jolly Corley, MS, works each summer developing 150 emerging leaders to create a dynamic and thoughtful camp culture through staff development. Using games, theatre, and life experiences she prepares staff to understand that our own experiences are the most useful tools for reflection & growth to a solid foundation in becoming leaders for life. Her work with jolly corley, llc, takes her around the world providing training to develop a staff culture that promotes personal & professional growth. Check out for more information.

Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps in Altadena, California