The Team Dynamics of Work Kamping Jobs

The following article was written as part of my continuing education requirements for my PMI certification and since it relates to work kamping I felt the information would be valuable to share here.  Since it is a professional article, it is not written in my normal first-person “blog voice.”

As a person who spent most of her adult career as a project manager,  I am very familiar with team dynamics.  And yet, despite having years of experience managing successful teams, I often find being a team member in a work kamping environment to be challenging.  There are some basic team dynamics that apply no matter what your work environment, but seasonal work kamping jobs do bring their own set of unique challenges, and this article is  that I wanted to explore. 

In 1965, Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first coined the phrase “forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning” to describe basic team development. Most people have at least heard that expression, and almost all us with a management/project background  have received some training in recognizing the stages.  Even if you have never heard the term,  you will probably recognize the pattern.  New teams start, everyone gets to know each other, there is conflict,and  then people either settle in, change teams, or leave the position. Although these phases are necessary they can be frustrating for all involved, but the good news is there are things we can do as team members or managers to help make the process smoother.  

The first phase of team building is Forming. Most team members are excited about the job and eager about the tasks ahead.  In this phase, team members are usually positive and polite, although some can be anxious and uncomfortable, especially with any ambiguity surrounding their new roles.  Returning employees may want to jump right in and start performing, but the new people are focused on learning the job and trying to figure out where they fit in.   Managers play an important role in this phase by hopefully providing a solid orientation, specific information on goals and expectations, and detailed training on how to complete tasks.

In a work Kamping environment this phase is also complicated by  new employees getting set up in their living space.  Not only are the employees learning a new job, they are often adjusting to a new area.  New Work Kampers are learning where the grocery store, laundromat, and/or post office is.  They want to know where they can get a haircut, where the closest hospital is, and what is fun to do in the area.  The need for that type of information is just as important as learning a new job and the first few days can be spent learning a new job during the day and learning a new area in the evening.  Even though most RVers have experience with moving to new places and enjoy the nomadic lifestyle, learning an area during “off-hours” can be tough.  One of the best things managers or other co-workers can do to help with this is provide a list to new people.  Names and addresses of basic services in town can be really helpful and save the new work kamper the time and energy it takes initially to find those places.  

Once people start to feel a little comfortable with what the area and what the job entails, the difficult phase of Storming begins. Everyone has a natural work style, and conflict often arises when these styles don’t mesh.  Human beings work differently which can be an asset for a team with good communication and high levels of trust but can cause dissension and even anger when team members do not know each other very well.  Insufficient training can complicate this issue, as people start to form work patterns based on assumptions of conflicting directions.  Many people start to feel overwhelmed by job responsibilities and workload and relatively simple problems often turn into emotionally charged issues.  Many managers in the work kamping environment provide initial training to the teams and then step back and “let them work it out.”  This may be a response to the fact that most work kampers are experienced workers or because the jobs are considered to be simple.  In either event, the lack of management involvement in this phase often leads to a leadership vacuum which one or more team members will try to step into.  Power struggles often occur, and conflicts are very common.  It is not surprising that this is phase is when many teams fail. 

This phase is especially complicated, because in the work kamping environment employees often come in pairs.  As each member of the partner team struggles to find their equilibrium, they are also worried about how their partner is being treated.  Because the roles and responsibilities are often different, partners  cannot always to help each other and if one member of the partnership is not happy the other person usually suffers as well.  When major conflict occurs many managers  have limited options on how to help resolve the issue. Changing teams, shifts or days off may be an option, but more often the work kamping jobs have very specific hours associated with them. Worse if a team member decides to leave their partner will generally leave with them and the manager has to replace two employees.  If the positions cannot be filled the remaining team members and managers have to take on additional tasks putting additional pressure on the remaining team members.  Despite the challenges of this phase there are things team members and managers can do to help work through it.  Team members can take a step back and realize that some conflict is normal and try to work through it in as constructive as way as possible.  Managers need to stay engaged with their teams and provide feedback to encourage conflict resolution.  When conflicts can’t be resolved by the team members, managers should act as arbitrators with the goal of finding a resolution that everyone can live with so the team can move forward.  If that is not possible, they should decide which team members to retain rather than running the risk of losing either the best team members or worst case all of the team members. 

The Norming phase starts when people want to resolve their issues, feel comfortable expressing their ideas and feelings, and start to appreciate their fellow team member’s strengths.  People develop a stronger commitment to team goals and start to develop a team identity.  Hopefully, team productivity will rise during this phase which will further reinforce the idea that the team is stronger when everyone is on the same page. Personal relationships may start to form as people learn more about each other’s backgrounds and team members may spend time outside of work together.  One thing for managers and team members to watch out for though are people who are still in the storming stage.  If only four people in a team of six start normalizing the team as a whole is still in the storming stage.  Extra time and attention should be given to the team members who are struggling to allow them to catch up to the other team members.

In a work kamping environment this stage is especially crucial as many team members are both working and living near each other.  Team pot lucks or happy hours can help people get to know each other on a personal level, but it is also important to allow people their personal space and boundaries. Camp hosting jobs in particular can require interactions during “off hours” and respecting people’s personal time is critical to building trust.   Managers should acknowledge the increased performance of the team during the norming phase and make sure any lingering issues are addressed.  This will help the team move into the next phase rather than regress back to the storming phase.

Performing is the most effective phase in a team’s development and for most people the most pleasant stage.  Team members feel satisfaction in the team’s progress and are largely working without friction.  Issues that occur are resolved with amicable solutions and the manager is generally pleased with the team’s results.  This phase is particularly important because if a team member needs to leave or an additional one is added, there will likely be little disruption in overall performance.  Manager’s can use this phase to work on developing employees and team members can be cross trained in other positions.  

Once work kampers reach this phase it most closely resembles working in a traditional environment.  Emotional bonds are often formed and team members feel comfortable with each other and the tasks they are performing.  Indeed, the desire to spend more time in this phase often results in work kampers returning to the same jobs year after year, with entire teams often choosing to return together to mostly avoid the turmoil of the earlier phases.  Managers should provide opportunities for special project work during this phase, but ensure employees are not overloaded with with too many extra tasks.  

Finally the team enters the Adjourning phase.  This stage can be difficult for some people especially if they have uncertainty about their next work position.  If the team has been highly successful members often feel sadness or loss.  Some members will become less focused on the tasks at hand and overall team productivity can drop.  Managers can help with this stage by being present more and providing feedback and encouragement around the importance of team contributions.  Clear communication about special end of season tasks is very important as well, so the team can start incorporating those activities into their standard routines. 

Work kampers are not immune to feelings of sadness and loss when a good seasonal job ends.  Personal relationships that have developed can be maintained via social media, but many people know it will be a long time before they see each other again. Those feeling can conflict with very strong feelings that it is time to move on. Most RVers are nomadic by nature and staying the same place for several months can often lead to “hitch-itch” or thedesire to pack up and move to a new place. An end of season celebration can help with these feelings.  It allows managers and team members to formally acknowledge what was accomplished during the season, and to say goodbye.  It also gives the manager a final opportunity to show the employees their appreciation, make a positive “last impression”,  and help reinforce the idea they would like for them to return next season.  

Working as part of a great team can be a very rewarding experience, but working on a bad team can be absolutely miserable. Understanding the stages can help make the transition easier and lead to less team failure hand happier seasonal assignments.  Although work kamper teams do have some unique challenges,  they also have the advantage of being staffed by team members who have a similar nomadic lifestyle.  Thus successful work kamper teams can often result in long lasting personal and professional relationships.   

Tracy Perkins, MBA is a PMP Certified Project Manager and a Certified Black Belt with over 15 years experience managing successful small teams.  She and her husband have been full time Rvers since 2014 and have had numerous work kamping experiences including camp hosting, beet harvest, selling Christmas trees, and gate guarding.  To read more about their work experiences and their lifestyle check out their blog at http://www.camperchronicles.com.  


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9 thoughts on “The Team Dynamics of Work Kamping Jobs

    • Thanks..this one took awhile. I started writing it at Beet harvest but didn’t have the energy to finish with all those twelve hour days. Thought j would take another crack at it and I’m glad I did. Helped clarify some things rattling around in my head and it’s never a bad idea to recognize there is psychology behind emotional reactions

  1. The interesting dynamic to a lot of workamping jobs, which you hit on, is that most teams don’t live and work together. Definitely creates an interesting aspect to team dynamics which most traditional businesses don’t have to worry about.

  2. Nice article. I sent a link to my wife Karen. All your articles on workamping are helping us to learn job expectations/conditions and what it’s like out there earning on the road. Thank you!

  3. Interesting. I am basically a PM now in my job. I actually have to deal with a lot of PMs on certain projects and sometimes defining everyones roles and responsibilities is vague – the IT PM, the construction PM, me, who handles what, there is a lot of overlap.

  4. By the way, I meant to tell you another thing. I used to get notifications when you would reply to my comments, but at some point late last year that stopped. For months I thought you just were too busy to reply, then a few weeks ago I checked Word Press and found all of these replies you posted, going back to your time selling Christmas trees. Wow! Sorry about that, not sure why that happened!

  5. Work camping definitely keeps us in a constant state of change. When we arrived at our latest gig (along with Rick), we still had the May crew we were working with. We all became quick friends and BAM..the entire crew switched out. Now we have the June crew! It’s a good thing we are all easy going; an invaluable trait to possess. Keeping in mind that none of these jobs are long term helps to keep it light, so to speak. That, and happy hour. 😉

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