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Supervising staff: the one minute approach.

I see the 175 staff members at YMCA Camp Orkila as 17 more cabin groups that deserve a fabulous and magical summer experience just like the one we offer to the 2500 campers we serve. I am challenged, however, by those instances when staff behave more like campers than the responsible young adults I interviewed during the past winter.

Camp Orkila is a large camp operation and I've learned some lessons the hard way. In examining what I consider to be my supervision style, there are two key concepts on which it is based.

First, are the lessons from Ken Blanchard's One Minute Manager. This book reduces an MBA program into three steps: developing one minute goals, using one minute praise, and using one minute reprimands. These concepts are not only part of my style, but are also easily understood by unit or village directors who have limited supervisory experience. It prepares a framework for these young middle managers to lead a staff team in the right direction. Furthermore, during a busy camp day, one minute is all any supervisor can spare.

The second influence has been my role as a parent, which is greatly based on my learning from Michael Brandwein. Although many responsible summer staff are mature beyond their years, we are still working with one of the most challenging age groups to supervise (16- to 24-year-olds at Orkila). Like my two-year-old daughter, summer staff need clear explanations of the rules, policies, and procedures, and they always want to know "Why?"

Meeting needs of a large staff

Orkila is 90 years old in 1996 and things sure are different from when the first group of boys and their four leaders landed on Orcas Island for a summer camp experience.

Now organized by age group (10 units with 40 campers each), Camp Orkila has experienced growth both of campers and staff. Each unit is led by a unit director who is empowered to run his or her own little camp. Program area directors also supervise program staff (waterfront, crafts, nature, etc.) so that no individual is accountable for more than a dozen staff. This creates a decentralized model that relies on the good judgment and talents of the summer director team. Staff are motivated by this responsibility and authority, which creates a great deal of ownership of the program. This group meets on a daily basis, and there is always a full-time director available to help problem-solve and make difficult decisions.

The role of the camp director is to set the parameters in which the summer program will operate. This is much like defining the playing field for a football team. Once the boundaries have been established, and clear expectations are in place, the director team is free to run any plays they see fit. When they go out of bounds, I blow the whistle and set them running in the right direction.

An example of this empowerment occurred while planning Orkila's special events for the summer. I had some strong feelings about which events or themes we should use based on my past experience. The director team wanted to try a number of new programs. I was not participating in the planning process in order to dictate which programs the summer directors would implement. I was there to establish my parameters of running at least one special event day each session and that these days be creative and fun for all. Although my favorite, Medieval Day, was not selected by the summer directors as one of the events, they did select and implement six creative programs that were big hits with the campers, thus meeting my expectations.

This group is very inspirational and is able to solve problems and create amazing programs in ways I could never conceive by myself. During the course of the summer, a true ownership develops and I become less referee and more coach. The directors are free to make changes in the program, as long as they stay true to the Orkila philosophy.

Communicating the philosophy: one minute goals

Staff, like children, need to know what appropriate behavior is. My greatest feat all summer is staff training - teaching staff what I expect and look for. I put more heart, soul, and energy into our eight staff training days than any other week of the summer.

The summer directors undergo intensive training prior to the arrival of the staff-at-large. We spend time on supervision, redirecting inappropriate staff behavior, problem solving, evaluations and feedback, and meeting the needs of their staff. My job (among other things) is to meet the needs of the summer directors so that they are energized and motivated to meet the needs of their staff. In turn, their staff members are prepared and motivated to meet the needs of their campers.

Blanchard outlines that goals should be specific, easily measured, and written. Orkila's written expectations for staff include guidelines in the staff manual, written goals for counselors, and standard operating procedures. Staff become very familiar with what is expected of them during this crucial training period and appropriate behaviors are always modeled by management staff. This is how we establish our one minute goals for staff.

Supervisors also work with their staff to establish personal goals for the summer. It's important to create an environment in which staff can achieve personal fulfillment.

When staff do things right: one minute praise

Brandwein teaches camp staff that, "Children get excited about what adults get excited about." Again, like campers, staff need positive reinforcement and constant feedback. We train supervisors to use their MBWA, or management by walking around. The more supervisors see happening right, the more positive feedback they will have for their staff.

Brandwein also teaches that specificity increases with immediacy. Blanchard reinforces this in criteria for one minute praise. The best feedback is both immediate and specific to a behavior. The more immediate the response, the more likely the behavior will be repeated. When you see staff doing something right, or almost right, let them know as soon as possible. Providing prompt praise makes it easier to be specific.

A few words from the camp director go a long way, especially for those I do not directly supervise.

Unit directors let me know which staff members are doing an exceptional job, and I let those staff know I think they're tops. All staff members have an evaluation with their supervisors every session; two of these evaluations are written.

Staff also feel valued when they feel heard and are asked for their input. Industrial sociology theory says that modern industrial routines devalue employees by removing their ability to have an impact on the work they do. Innovative methods such as management by objectives (MBOs) have increased the buy-in of employees to their work. Using this knowledge, I learned to listen to the staff and constantly strive to be approachable.

One of my mentors, Gordon Hodne, taught me that rules without relationships are made to be broken. This means that the staff have to respect my leadership before they will respect my guidelines. I spend a great deal of energy talking with and listening to the staff and building relationships. I enjoy hanging out at our evening snack bar just to see who will stop by my table to chat. Very seldom do staff want to know how my day went. More often staff approach me with concerns about the camp operation and proposals for change. I listen and respond appropriately (some things are nonnegotiable). When changes occur, I give credit to those who made them happen. This has made my job as a supervisor much more manageable, increased staff morale, and strengthened the program.

The hardest part: one minute reprimand

Camp staff are young people who are prone to making mistakes and who are influenced by many factors. When staff fail to follow guidelines, it's time for a one minute reprimand. My first question to them is "What is your understanding of the rule or guideline?" This is a parenting technique taught by Steven H. Glenn in his curriculum Developing Capable People, and helps set the tone that I need to better understand their behavior versus "I am right and you are wrong." Then I seek clarification as to why they chose to break the rule and often theirs is a good (or good enough) explanation. I restate my position as a supervisor and clarify the importance of the rule or guideline.

My goal with these conversations, as taught by Blanchard, is to leave staff thinking about their behavior, not that I treated them poorly. Just like with children, it's not effective supervision to yell at staff. An important component of the reprimand is a reaffirmation that lets staff know they are valuable and that the supervisor still has faith in their abilities.

Beyond the reprimand: consequences

Most reprimands do not require more action than a chat with a supervisor. When a pattern of inappropriate behavior begins, there needs to be more severe logical consequences. These need to be appropriate in severity to the behavior. Where I diverge from my role as a parent is that I can't fire or terminate my children.

Without addressing the legal ramifications of a staff termination, I offer one word of advice: Document! Don't wait until a staff member's behaviors are so far off to take action or to record the pattern. Use written reprimands early in the process and clearly outline the consequences if the behavior is not corrected.

It only works if you use it

Large or small staff team, child or adult, everyone needs to know what is expected of them, when they are doing the right thing, and when they are falling short of the expectations. Supervision is a skill and, like any skill, proficiency increases with practice. When camp directors model good supervisory techniques, summer supervisors will be better prepared to do the same. Supervision and providing feedback is an important part of our role and cannot be done while sitting in our offices. Directors and supervisors need to be with staff and campers as much as possible in order to offer credible feedback and monitor staff performance. A staff team that is not well supervised will not only be a headache during the summertime, but will be a haunting influence during the year when a parent calls to retell their child's story of a staff member's inappropriate behavior (a surprise to you).

Good supervision is good risk management and makes good sense. When staff feel valued, they are more likely to return the following summer. This translates into less energy and money spent recruiting and hiring new staff and a strong staff team that knows what is expected summer after summer. The ones who benefit the most are the campers, for whom camp staff provide a magical summer experience.


Blanchard, K. & Johnson, S. The One Minute Manager. New York: William Murrow.

Brandwein, M. (1991). Building Better Children. Session presented in Chicago, Ill.

Glenn, H. S. Developing Capable Children. Fair Oaks, Calif.: Sunrise Press.

Kouzes J. & Posner, B. The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Geoff Ball has been the director of YMCA Camp Orkila, on Orkas Island, Wash., for the last seven years.

RELATED ARTICLE: Praise Dialogue

I recently observed Jennifer when she was approached by an upset camper who was obviously homesick. Jennifer did everything right; I was so pleased.

At dinner time, I invited Jennifer outside for a moment while the unit counselor sat with the campers at the table. This action often has staff thinking that they are going to get in trouble.

This is what I said to her:

"Thanks, Jennifer, for giving me a couple of minutes here. I wanted to tell you what a super job you did with Amanda this morning. You bent down to meet her eyes when she was talking to you, you listened so carefully to what she was telling you, you validated her feelings with your story about being homesick during your freshman year, then you took her to the craftshop with you and kept her active.

"I predict that Amanda will do just fine this session because of the sincere attention you gave to her needs. You're the kind of staff person who makes camp special for so many kids. I appreciate your putting Amanda's needs before your own. I checked the schedule and noted that you did all this on your afternoon break. Thanks. You are a superstar."

I was as immediate as I could be with my praise of Jennifer and I focused on specific things she did that were successful. Jennifer continued her excellence throughout the summer.

RELATED ARTICLE: Reprimand Dialogue

When I witness a staff person falling short of expectations, it really brings me down. I remind myself when I approach a staff person that our relationship must be built on respect. I need to seek a better understanding of why this person is making these choices.

Take Michael for instance. I was walking to the pool after lunch through his unit. After lunch is our rest hour, and the expectation is that campers are on their bunks engaged in quiet activities such as letter writing or reading. On this day early in the summer, Michael's campers were all on the volleyball court and Michael was nowhere in sight. I counted to 10 slowly and went in search of Michael. I found him asleep on his bunk.

Our conversation:

G: Michael, what's your understanding of where your campers are to be during rest hour?

M: Wow, Geoff, the kids are supposed to be on their bunks.

G: Well, your whole cabin group is currently on the volleyball court making plenty of noise.

M: Oh, man, I am so sorry. David woke up last night and was really sick. I dealt with that for about two hours so I guess I completely crashed and the kids Shuck out of the cabin.

G: Gotcha, I knew there would be a good explanation. Let me help you round them up, then after rest hour, I'll cover your cabin time so you can get some rest.

I had to assume that there was a logical explanation for this deviance from the norm, and I was not let down. Michael and I continued to have a very positive relationship that summer.

Not all situations are as fairy tale as that one. Take Sean for instance. We have a staff curfew at midnight. Staff need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep to function at the levels they need to all day long. Sean had a hard time getting back to his cabin on time. Rob, his unit director, approached him to talk about this pattern.

Their conversation:

R: Sean, You've been late back to your cabin three nights in a row. We've talked about this being a problem. What's your understanding of when you are to return to the cabin?

S: Well, no one else is back on time. Why don't you talk to them, too?

R: Well, I am your supervisor, not everyone else's. Do you understand why we have a staff curfew?

S: To bust our chops and treat us like children?

R: Ha, ha. I like your sense of humor. Let me clarify the policy and why it's in place. We work very hard all day long and our top priority needs to be the kids, all day long. We try to offer some free time to staff after lights out, but we really do feel that you need to be fully rested to perform at your best.

S: Well, I am one of those people who doesn't need a lot of rest.

R: And I can appreciate that. Still, camp policy is based on sound reasoning, and I need you to role model good decisions for your fellow staff.

S: Yeah, that's something I'd tell my kids who were misbehaving. Good point. I'll try harder.

R: You have excellent counseling skills and I've come to rely on you to do good work with the kids. I know you can make this work, too.

S: Yeah, cool. Thanks man.

R: See you in the morning Sean.

I was really pleased with Rob's ability to solve this problem with Sean. Rob was able to deal with Sean's behavior and not let Sean's initial obstinacy get him angry. Rob also was able to validate the good work Sean normally does with kids to reaffirm his faith in Sean's abilities. Rob let Sean know that he would continue to trust him. The problem did disappear.

RELATED ARTICLE: American Camping Association Standards for Staff

ACA accreditation standards specify:

* All staff should have a clear picture of who they supervise, and are supervised by, to enable two-way communication.

* Staff who supervise other staff must have guidelines for identifying acceptable performance in the jobs they supervise.

* Supervisors must have training to recognize and address inappropriate staff behavior.

* Supervisors also need training in the content and methods they are to use in evaluating their staff's performance.

ACA accreditation standards also require training staff to:

* Treat campers with respect and utilize positive behavior management and disciplinary techniques.

* Focus attention primarily on campers' needs and interests rather than on other staff and themselves.

* Use appropriate methods and behaviors for relating to campers and other staff.

* Understand their supervisory responsibilities when "on duty" with campers and know how and where to get additional help.

From: American Camping Association. (1993). Standards for Day and Resident Camps.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on praise and reprimand dialogues
Author:Ball, Geoff
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Previous Article:A letter to my child's staff person....
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