Processes to help support your team through busy times

We finished our first summer of camp at Flying Horse Farms, and our team was physically and emotionally exhausted. We could see the finish line, but nobody had energy to celebrate. Everyone deserved a reward.

“Please hold the Monday and Tuesday after our final session on your calendar,” I instructed one team member. The concept? She would think we had meetings, and when the days arrived, be pleasantly surprised to learn she was gifted that time off.

But however well intentioned, asking two more days at that moment was more than she could take. She burst into tears.

Five years later, I have learned how to avoid those backfire moments in the first place by supporting my staff.

Understand the busy seasons

Our team members have busy seasons at different times. The team that cares for our 200 acres and buildings is busiest in the spring. The team that runs programming is busiest during the summer, when 70-plus children are in their care each week. The fundraising team is busiest in December, when the bulk of contributions arrive and there’s pressure to hit financial goals.

The better I understand those schedules, the more I can help manage the team through their toughest stretches, even if it’s just reminding them that I appreciate their dedication.

They are working with you, not for you

When I worked as an attorney, big cases sometimes warranted late nights. One particular leader didn’t need to work on briefings with us but nonetheless stayed at his desk and burned the midnight oil. I try to show my team that same respect, by being at camp on Saturdays or helping give a camp tour on a holiday.

One of our core values is “All crew, no passengers.” I try to paddle with my crew, or at the very least, sit beside them in the boat.

Offer bonus days off

Has a particular branch of your team tirelessly executed a mission? Give them bonus days off as soon as the job is done. Does your entire team deserve a high five? Show your appreciation with a long weekend. They will return refreshed, grateful and ready to roll.

(And for goodness’ sake, if anyone used a PTO day during time you give, return the day and allow them to use it as they wish.)

Respect their PTO time

Recharging time is sacred and necessary. I ask my team to respect teammates’ PTO time, and I try to lead by example. I mark every employee’s PTO days on my calendar. Unless there is an absolute emergency, and there are very few, I don’t contact them on their days off.

Establish your ‘Chalupa’

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, people reach their breaking point. At camp, we have a code word for those moments: “Chalupa.” It alerts everyone you have hit your limit.

Everyone has permission to use it when needed, even with me. When they say it, the conversation ends. Whatever was needed can and will wait, and the rest of us will figure out how to help.

Mimi Dane is the CEO of Flying Horse Farms, a camp for children with serious illnesses. Located in Mt. Gilead, the camp serves hundreds of children each year — free of charge.