SBM 101: Using Summer Camp as a Model for Employee Engagement

Small Business Marketing 101As a child, were you fortunate enough to attend a summer camp? Well, there was way more to learn from your time there. I’m sure all the arts and crafts were a blast, as were there the many hikes. The most interesting thing that happens at kids summer camps is the family-like atmosphere that is created. Some of the better camps create bonds that last a lifetime.

The kids will spend their year in school talking about last year’s summer camp to the point of making all the other kids sick of hearing about it. And when they aren’t talking about it with the school friends, they are daydreaming about what might happen the next year.

So what is it about summer camp that makes this experience so powerful and what can we as business owners and entrepreneurs learn from them that can help us build more productive and passionate teams?

kids diving off a dockThink back to your experiences at summer camp. What comes to mind? Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • Teams with names
  • Shared symbols
  • Common language
  • Songs, stories and traditions
  • Trials and Shared Challenges

What else would you add to this list?

What in the world does this have to do with business and engaging your team? Let’s take a look.

  • Teams with names – Though summer camp is often about coming together as a community, one of the most powerful things they do is put kids into small teams that, more often than not, have names. The names can range from old Native American tribal names to pop culture icons. It’s much like college frats and sororities. You now have a family and a shared identity, like it or not.
  • Shared symbols – Often, your team will be assigned a symbol. You’ll also see other symbols around the camp. Some are familiar, some aren’t, but if you are patient and ask the right people, you will start to learn them and become part of the in crowd. Much like the names, these symbols help to strengthen your sense of identity and belonging.
  • Common Language – The camp councilors and leaders often use their own terms for things around the camp, whether it is the restrooms or the evening gathering around the communal campfire. Over time, you learn the language and can share it with your fellow campers (even when your back in the real world). That language is a bridge. It connects you to the camp and to your fellow campers. It is a mark of a great culture.
  • Songs, Stories and Traditions – There are songs everywhere you go. Songs at lunch. Songs for the campfire. Songs you sing before turning into bed. Once you’ve hit the bunk room, out come another summer camp tradition – the ghost stories and urban legends. Every camp has them. During the daytime, great camp experiences are built upon traditions, whether it is annual talent show, the opening campfire or the closing ceremonies.
  • Trials and Shared Challenges – During your time at camp, you are often faced with a variety of physical challenges. Do you remember that miserable hike they made you go on? What about your first time rowing that boat across the lake? Everyone survives them with various individual challenges along the way, but the power of these experiences to bond you to those around you is amazing. Blood, sweat and tears – it is hard to replicate these times in your life. They are hard. You struggled. And at the end of the day, your and your fellow campers had achieved something unique. You now had your own shared story and history.

Can you see how you might use these same elements in your own employee engagement plan? Your goal should be to create a unique business culture where everyone on the team is driven to accomplish great things together. Though you might get some strange looks as you start building your own “summer camp,” you will end up with a team that is passionate about the success of your business. They will want to work together to bond, perpetuate the culture, and bring others into the group when appropriate.

  • How have you segmented your teams? Do they have cool names that they will care about?
  • What are the shared company symbols that hold deep tribal meaning for them?
  • Have you developed words or phrases that are unique to your business? How have you shared it with the team?
  • You might not sing with your team (maybe you will), but how have you shared your story with the team? Have you shared the company’s history with them? Are there former team members whose stories might help build unity and culture?
  • Are there challenges that you could had off to your team that they would want to be a part of? Could you make up several relevant ones that you could hand off to them to solve as a team? Would there be some major challenges that the entire team, including you, could play a vital role in?

Summer camp – who would have known that a fun tradition from your childhood would translate into fantastic business practices that you can use to build a remarkable team environment?

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