Friday, June 17, 2022

2016 - The Summer I Never Used A Plate - Systems in Leadership


Typical Camp Dining Hall Melamine Plates

As many of you may know, I have spent 40 summers (since 1980) working and serving in various capacities at overnight camps in the United States. Officially I have worked at 6 different camps in that time period and several summers ago (2016 to be exact) I never used a plate, bowl or utensil in our dining hall; and yes, I did eat there at nearly every meal that summer.

Why is this important?

You can see by the photo below, that an orderly Dining Hall is emblematic of a good system. An orderly dining hall will feed dozens, if not hundreds of meals per day and up to three times a day. In 2016, we often had well over 5000 meals served in about 48 days of summer camp.

Being good stewards of our environment is part of the culture that many camps endeavor to teach. I know the word "Steward" may be an antiquated term and I wrote about it in a previous BLOG: Stewardship, Leadership Lessons on Investing.

John Maxwell states that, "The Value of Systems: 1) They Help Us Manage Time, 2) They Help Us Conserve Energy, 3) They Help Us to Multiply Creativity, 4) They Help Us to Maximize Progress."

Typical Camp Dining Hall

I am fond of saying that the folks who designed camps (some 130 years ago when the camping movement began in the United States) that these folks were quite genius at what they did. The fact of the matter is, that they were very deliberate about nearly every aspect of camp.

Time, energy, creativity, and progress are all aspects of our roles as leaders. Each of the camps that I served had systems in place; some good and some were extremely inefficient. Utilizing these to maximize your time and allow you to invest in others is one of your greatest assets.

The conservation of plates at the dining hall was a metaphor for how I was spending my time. I circumvented the system that was in place and conserved energy for myself and others (our dishwashers were very pleased about my choice that summer)

As you approach summer, take a look at what is eating your time up. Are there others that can take up those tasks? If you can delegate, than do so. Carve out time to do that tasks you do need to do in private. I would get up early and take care of email messages before our first activity each day, so I could focus on spending time at our Morning Watch chapel. It was this time each day that set the tone of how everything could flow and I felt it needed my undivided attention.

Allowing myself time to connect with others during meals  to check in, scan for emerging issues, and head off challenges was my main goal of attending meal times. Maxwell also shares that there are three ways to maximize your time.

While it became a bit of a game and folks made light of the fact that I would often use my coffee mug (see below). I would use it to hold chocolate pudding and chicken fingers (my favorite camp meal - you dip the chicken fingers in the chocolate pudding) as well as other items like tuna salad, or baked beans and hot dogs, etc.

I have had this coffee mug for about 12 years now

I took it upon myself to create a tiny system with in the larger system and I gained an entry to others when they would comment or intrigued by my practice. There was not a day that summer that I did not connect with our staff team or campers. 

Summer overnight camps are a a microcosm of our society. Those institutions run a full time hotel (as it were) that houses hundreds if not thousands full time for one week and up to 10 weeks. Camps have full time restaurants and meal service serving thousands of meals three times a day as well as snacks, desserts, and late night raids on the ice cream freezer. My first camp was powered by a generators system (BLOG story The Power of F-Sharp) That generator also powered our water well system. Those systems and so much more are effectively little towns that house hundreds and thousands each season.

You may think it's too late to start; and if that is the case, you will prove that it's true. I on the other hand would like to believe that systems are there to support us and when we need new ways to create efficiency, ask yourself, "How will this benefit the camper experience?" (or my customers experience)

Here are some measurable things that I saved by not using any dishes, bowls, plates or cups in our dinging hall in our outdoor education and summer season of 2016.

432 plates over 144 days or 27 trays of dishes.

The average dining hall Dishwasher (our was an industrial Hobart brand) utilizing 3 gallons per load or a savings of 81 gallons of water. The ratings guide on a brand new dishwasher is 6000 KW per load or 162,000 KW or $34.56 of electricity saved.

I also used some creativity, managed my time, conserved energy, and maximized my process to connect and serve others.

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