Collaboration Fulfills the Mission: Camp Staff Unite

Kimberly Whiteside Truitt, CFM
April 2018

Amber, the food service manager, watched anxiously as the small summer campers tried desperately to carry large trays containing plates of food and silverware from serving line to table during lunch at Camp Marcos. Plates full of food slid from side to side, and then, BOOM! Contents crashed to the cafeteria floor — four times during one meal. As kitchen staff rushed from one cleaned-up catastrophe to clean another, Amber had had enough. She marched over to Evan, a college student who was this year’s summer camp director, and reiterated, “This is not working!”

Evan replied, “We already decided in our summer staff meeting; we are keeping the round plates.”

Incensed by Evan’s remarks and trying to hold in her irritation, Amber approached Program Director Tim in the hallway. “This is what I have been trying to tell you. Full plates of food on large trays are too much for small children to handle — they can’t keep plates from sliding all over the place! And that is a food service issue, a decision the food service team should make!”

Earlier in the fall, Amber had priced compartment trays for the summer camp season to control food waste and cost, and to offer more user-friendly options for children. Through networking, she located a nearby camp that had cases of never-used compartment trays, which they offered to donate. Amber gratefully accepted the trays, happy that she had secured them while saving money. The trays were used successfully during children’s retreats in the spring. After the summer camp dining hall incident, Amber discovered that Tim, Evan, and summer camp staff had nixed the idea because it did not fit into a family dining-style program.

Important Note

Following is a discussion about collaboration and good communication. Being involved and invested is a good thing, but make sure you seek approval, ideas, and mentoring from your supervisor, food service director(s), and kitchen staff regarding activity, decisions, and practices in the food service area before taking any action yourself.

Importance of Collaboration

Breakdowns in communication like this are bound to happen between departments and among staff within groups from time to time. So it’s important to acknowledge these breakdowns when they happen and to take positive steps to solve any lingering issues. That requires collaboration, which, in turn, requires open and honest communication on your part.

Catalyst

In John C. Maxwell’s The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, the “Law of the Catalyst” is the assertion that every winning team has players who make things happen (2001). This can start with a leader or coach, but other catalysts within the team may develop and use their passion, initiative, intuition, and responsibility to spur others on. This means you. If two departments within an organization need to collaborate and become a “team of teams,” as authors Fussell and Goodyear (2017) coined in One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams, there must be a catalyst to facilitate and cultivate this collaboration. You should always be on the lookout for opportunities to be that catalyst.

Communication

In the “Law of Communication,” interaction fuels action, according to Maxwell. The better the communication, the better the interaction and resulting actions will be. Remember, you and your fellow camp staff all have the same goal: to provide a safe, delicious, life-changing experience for your campers.

Maxwell calls this team goal the “Law of the Big Picture” (2001). You must work together to reach that common goal. So consider these ground rules for successful, collaborative conversations, a team code of conduct, if you will (O’Berry, 2018):

  • Be respectful
    • Consider others’ time when asking for something, and be on time for meetings.
    • Speak positively about each other and your work together.
    • Be engaged when you have staff meetings, and be positive as you work together.
    • Consider how your actions will affect others.
  • Take ownership
    • Admit your failures and apologize with sincerity.
    • Take your responsibilities seriously.
    • Praise others for their successes.
    • Maintain your composure under duress, recognizing verbal attack creates resentment and erodes morale (Wong, 2015).
  • Participate in coming to a consensus
    • Consider other people’s opinions.
    • Listen adequately.
    • Share ideas.
    • Be willing to adjust your individual agenda for the good of the team (US Office of Personnel Management, 2018).

An effective and efficient team must collaborate together. As an important member of this collaborative team, always strive to be a positive communicator. Never talk about someone on your team in a negative way. Always demonstrate care for and value your fellow staffers, no matter what their responsibility at camp. In this way, you will find solutions together when problems arise and be the best team you can be to make this summer the best experience for your campers.

One Camp’s Example of Collaboration

Camp Gilmont’s Executive Director James Hilliard and his team decided that after grumbling between teams, it was time to unite food service staff and the rest of the summer camp staff. Generational practices and methods were quite different between the two teams, and each team was territorial. Hilliard met separately with each group and listed their thoughts regarding what they wanted to accomplish over the summer — Camp Gilmont’s mission as they saw it. Surprisingly, their lists matched, some of it word for word. He then began a dialogue between the two teams.

“These efforts began the start of something beautiful,” Hilliard said. Summer staff had always done things like work a cart where plates and cups were gathered after a meal, but that summer they took it a step further. “Our summer staff asked kitchen staff how they could help them. This led to washing dishes, cleaning tables, sweeping floors — and as this happened they learned each other’s names and greeted each other every time. Campers began to catch on and greeted kitchen staff as well, and expressed gratitude to kitchen staff for their hard work. The bonus outcome of this outpouring of gratitude came when summer staff had campers make a lot of noise for kitchen staff and invited kitchen staff to closing ceremonies for recognition.”

Last summer, Camp Gilmont took the additional step of trying a new approach to bridge differences in the two teams and provide extra support for food service. “Two individuals were hired as lifeguard and support staff; one served support in the kitchen, and the other was support around the grounds,” explained Hilliard. “The young lady who served in the kitchen took care of special diets in the cafeteria and for campouts, which took a great burden off kitchen staff. She happened to be celiac intolerant and was studying to be a dietitian, so she was a great asset to both campers with special diets and kitchen staff.”

Whether you have dietary knowledge to share based on your personal experience or talents in other camp areas, make sure you’re on the lookout for ways you can use them to bolster your team this summer.

Perhaps collaboration can be best defined by Mother Teresa, who wisely said, “You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.”

References

Fussell, C., & Goodyear, C. W. (2017). One mission: How leaders build a team of teams. New York, NY: Penguin.

Maxwell, J. W. (2001). The 17 indisputable laws of teamwork. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

O’Berry, D. (2018). What to include in team code of conduct. Ask Team Doc. Retrieved from https://askteamdoc.com/what-to-include-in-team-code-of-conduct/

US Office of Personnel Management. (2018). Performance management: Effective teams strive for consensus. Retrieved from https://opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/performance-management/teams/effective-teams-strive-for-consensus/

Wong, D. (2015, July 7). How to improve interdepartmental collaboration. Meet Central. Retrieved from https://imeetcentral.com/how-to-improve-interdepartmental-collaboration

Kimberly Whiteside Truitt works as food service director for Camp Gilmont and Camp Zephyr. She formerly served for six years as a member of Camping Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Committee.