A few weeks ago, I participated in my favorite annual activity: attending summer camp. The camp is for abused children and is part of a national effort organized through Royal Family Kids’ Camps, Inc. (www.rfkc.org). I have two main passions in life. One is teaching, and the other is helping children. The camp scratches that itch for me every year. But the reason I’m writing about it has less to do with the children than with the adult volunteers who organize and conduct the camp.
Camp is a tough commitment for many of the volunteers. It requires a six-day trip, which usually requires the volunteer to use vacation time. Our camp is located in the middle of Texas during a week of July, when temperatures are scorching. Each camp guide takes responsibility for two campers between the ages of 7-11 and spends 22.5 hours a day with them.
Every day of the week starts at 7:30a (earlier if the adult wants to get a shower in) and runs until 9:30p, when the camp guide is allowed to take a 90-minute break before stumbling into his/her comfy camp bunk. Camp guides follow a tightly-packed schedule and do their best to make camp the ultimate experience for each of their campers.
I’m not doing it justice, because many volunteers spend hours and hours in preparation for camp – submitting to an invasive interview process, participating in two days of on-site training, attending meetings, shopping for cabin decorations, loading trucks, inventorying supplies, attending fund raisers, etc… Suffice it to say, this camp requires a unique and demanding type of commitment.
Each year, it takes over 60-70 adults to host the one-week camp for approximately 60-70 abused children. That’s a one-to-one ratio of adults to children – almost unheard of at a summer camp but absolutely essential for preserving the safety and creating the experience for the kids. Sixty adults is a tough number to muster for a volunteer opportunity, but this camp has done it successfully for the past twelve years. This year, most of our 70+ adults were returning volunteers. Twenty-two have been with us for five years or more, and seven of those have been with the camp for all twelve years.
I have never seen a team operate as smoothly and effectively as the one that comes together each year to put on RFKC #47. Personal differences are set aside. Egos are checked at the camp gates. Individual agendas are abandoned…all in an attempt to serve the kids. All this while volunteers are being tested to their physical, mental and emotional limits.
How do the camp directors generate such loyalty, commitment and sacrifice from the volunteers? Simple. The power of a shared vision. The camp directors don’t have to cajole these contributions from their volunteers, because the volunteers give them freely. They don’t have to offer incentives, because the volunteers believe that the work is reward enough in itself. They can elicit extraordinary effort from their volunteers just by asking, because the volunteers are passionate about the goals of the camp.
Can this power be put to work on your team? YES! To do it, you will need to create a vision that all your team members can get excited about. Even if the work your team does isn’t viewed as intrinsically rewarding in and of itself, you can create incredible synergy by identifying your team’s uniqueness. What is it that your team wants to be known for? What makes it different from all the other teams? Why would anyone outside the team want to come be part of it?
Everyone wants to be part of something excellent and extraordinary. They will work for less money, put up with inconvenience and hassle, step out of the spotlight…all to be part of something unique and worthwhile. So, no more excuses! Every team is capable of being excellent in some way. Find out what your team values the most and then go to work creating that reputation for yourself!