Paul Butler | Lessons from Camp

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

Last week my wife and I served as counselors on a camp for children in the foster care system. The collection of over 50 volunteers collaborated like no other team I’ve ever been part of in the working world. While coming up for air in-between teaching, playing, running and encouraging the two incredibly energetic 11-year olds I’d been assigned, I started to formulate four fundamental teamwork principles across the fields of Ojai.  

  1. Clarity of purpose 

The mission behind this camp serves as a glue to bond us all together. Regardless of whether you were serving at the coal face as a counselor, or behind the scenes as a sound technician, everyone knew why we were there.  

The majority of organizations, however, have little to no clarity of purpose — they meander aimlessly with a mission statement that either means nothing to no one or nebulously sounds good but isn’t actionable. Whereas last week, we all put our best foot forward, most organizations struggle to engage the hearts and minds of people who get actually paid to do their work.  

  1. Leaders worth following 

The two leaders who led us last week are both people of impeccably high character and high competence. Not only are they good at what they do in their separate roles as camp leaders, but they’re also good people to be around. “Salt of the Earth” is a phrase that fits well, as I think about Greg and Jeannie.  

Regrettably, what we often see in the real working world are leaders by name but not by evidence. Selfishness over selflessness. Ego over humility. The love of money driving all sorts of choices to make the proverbial bottom line. 

  1. Extreme ownership 

Even though we each had clearly defined roles at camp, I saw countless examples of people mucking in to get done what needed to be done. Upon reflection, I have concluded that because we had clarity of purpose (No. 1) and were led by leaders worth following (No. 2) we all did whatever was asked of us or was right in front of us.  

Unfortunately, many organizations struggle with employee engagement and the majority of the payroll having a mindset of, “Not my job” if asked to do something outside of their job description.  

I remember awhile back conducting coaching with an individual who kept their job description in a stand-up plastic frame on their desk. When I enquired of its purpose, I was abruptly told, “If it’s not on there, I don’t and won’t do it.” I guess that’s one way of seeing the world, albeit a very sad one.  

Conversely, extreme ownership builds a culture of customer-centered service where everyone is willing and equipped to roll up their sleeves and jump in to help where necessary.  

  1. Regular check-ins 

Each morning while the kids were on another activity, the two leaders I mentioned above met with us as a group of camp counselors for about half-an-hour. They reviewed the plan for the day with us and asked our input on what was going well and what could be done better. It was this cadence of communication that I believe was a major contributor to the week’s success for our ultimate customer — the kids.  

I find it astounding that in the technological age in which we’re living, most employees cite a lack of clear and concise communication as being a major irritant. With so many meetings, emails and workspace platforms (such as Slack, Teams and Zoom) you’d think this rumor would have been silenced. Yet it seems, there’s a lot of noise and only a distant crackling through the airwaves. 

So, this how it was in Ojai last week where I was reminded of four fundamental principles of teamwork: clarity of purpose; leaders worth following; extreme ownership and regular check-ins.  

I wonder why we make everything so much more complicated than it needs to be when we wrap people, often full of their own importance, around a series of tasks. Maybe we should all “go back to camp” metaphorically speaking each summer to be reminded of lessons we should have learned as kids.  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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