Tag Archives: organization

Leadership Lessons I Learned at Day Camp

I volunteered recently at a day camp for boys ages 7-10 and learned a lot more than just how to be a kid again. I created an obstacle course that presented challenges for each boy. As the boys came through my station and worked through the challenges, I saw some important management principles emerge. I want to share those unexpected lessons with you.

Ownership is King

I set up the obstacle course ahead of time and it included things such as a rope bridge, a rope swing, tires to crawl through and various other obstacles. This was my design and the boys enjoyed it. After the first couple of days I allowed them to make modifications to my design. Of course, some of the modifications would have caused great injury had I allowed them but such is the nature of a young boy.

I realized that as they changed the design to fit their tastes, they became more invested in the obstacle course. Comments changed from “great course” to “best obstacle course ever!” because it was now their course and not mine. As managers, are we guilty of handing down a vision or a scripted playbook for employees to carry out without giving them ownership of their work? Would they be more motivated if they had a hand in designing their own processes? Would they feel more invested if they contributed to the vision rather than simply executing it? Perhaps stronger ownership would lead to comments such as “this is the greatest workplace ever.”

The Suggestion Box

I told the boys early on that I would welcome suggestions for improving the course. I am not sure they took me seriously but they did offer several suggestions. Some were simple changes that I could make overnight and some were incredibly complicated and would have required super powers. I made the changes I could and the boys were surprised and delighted to find their ideas incorporated into the course. As they saw the changes they pointed out their ideas. One boy even suggested water balloons throughout the course and went so far as to bring some balloons to fill. He was totally invested in the outcome. In short, I took the ideas in the suggestion box seriously. As managers, do we welcome suggestions and try to implement them as we can? Extra effort in this area could result in more motivated employees.

Cooperation Increases Productivity

I allowed groups of boys to modify the course to fit their interests. I found the groups fell into two categories, those who agreed and executed the plan and those who were fractured and could not get beyond arguing about who was right. Those who agreed to work together had a lot more time to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but some groups never even got off the starting line. They split into factions that each tried to implement their own vision. I realized that while it is important to create and execute a shared long-term vision, it has a definite impact on short-term productivity. The longer it takes to agree on the future, the more it impacts current work. Does your team have a solid vision and is everyone working toward that future or do you still have factions trying to move in a different direction?


I never thought I would relate day camp to management principles but the parallels I found while observing the boys were unmistakable. I thought I was going to enjoy a week of sunshine and interacting with youth, and I did, but I also came away with new leadership and management insights.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Lessons in Workplace Civility: Simple Things We Learned In Kindergarten

Photo of kindergarteners working together.In our hectic lives we sometimes forget some of the basic lessons we learned in kindergarten. In an article last year titled “How Lessons From Kindergarten Can Help Office Civility” the author highlights some areas that can improve workplace productivity and overall happiness. These are simple, often overlooked lessons that when not practiced can leave us stressed and frustrated. As we approach the new year, it is a good time to commit to be more civil and open with coworkers. Here are some simple reminders that are just as important now as when we were kids.


In the article mentioned above, some of the reasons for incivility include increased workload, stress, and being distracted when we should be paying attention to others. We may not even notice each other even though we exchange e-mails and texts and chats all day. I submit that a simple smile and a “good morning” would go far in creating a less stressful workplace. Those few seconds of interaction can open doors to authentic dialogue and better relationships and maybe even higher productivity. We often turn to technology to improve efficiency, but perhaps this simple step can contribute just as much.

Pay Attention

The urge to multitask can be great in our overloaded workdays, but when you are in a meeting or a presentation, it is polite to pay attention. We learned this lesson from our kindergarten teacher as well. A number of years ago I attended a meeting of coworkers in Texas. Most of us were teleworkers from various parts of the world so it was a genuine treat to get together and share ideas face-to-face. There was a  jumble of LAN cables strung out on the conference room table so we could each connect to the internet while in the meeting. This was in the days before wireless connections and smartphones. I thought at the time of the absurdity of these internet connections when we had all spent so much time and effort to come together to work through issues. It did cause a distraction for some and we did not listen to the presenter as deeply as we could or should have. Let’s make a point of giving the speaker our full attention.

Extend a Kind Word

I challenge you this week to reach out and extend a kind word to at least one coworker every day. Compliment them on the fine work that they do or something else you appreciate about them. For some, this may be standard practice but for others it may be difficult. If it is hard at first, work at it! It will become easier and it will improve your office environment. Once you start it, others will want to join in. Initiate a “kind word” movement at your workplace today.


Every company and organization has a different culture and different set of values. I would be surprised if any of them actually valued incivility. Intel, for example, practices “constructive confrontation” which may actually appear as negative to an outsider. This is a problem solving method that encourages frank dialogue about any ideas or issues. Intel employees recognize feedback as a gift and get to problem resolution quicker through honest and sometimes blunt discussion. While the communication may be direct they still have respect for each other and individual opinions. This blend of constructive confrontation and respect has kept them at the top of the processor game for many years. No matter your organization’s culture, the lessons we learned in kindergarten still apply.


These are simple ideas but they are as important today as when we first learned them. Be polite, pay attention, and extend a kind word or a hand to your colleagues. Put down the technology once in awhile and notice and appreciate the great people you work with. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.