A Method or the Madness

Scouts BSA Journey #2 – Jim Fuller

Putting the Scouts in charge of running the patrol and troop may seem like a scary idea, but it turns out there is a method to keep it from turning to madness. It’s not just chaos, but a well-designed leadership model.

Robert Baden-Powell (aka B-P) put together the formal program that would become known as Boy Scouts (and later, Girl Scouts). B-P designed several elements into the program, one of which is the Patrol Method. He had a few words to share about the importance of using the Patrol Method within the program: “The Patrol Method is not a way to do Scouting… it’s the only way to do Scouting.” He went on to explain that if a troop was not employing the Patrol Method, they really were not doing Scouting at all. Pretty strong words, and an indication that we should pay attention.

So, let’s go back to B-P, to hear his definition of the method: “The Patrol Method is putting your [Scouts] into permanent groups under the leadership of one of their number – the Patrol Leader. To get the best results, you must give the leader real, free-handed responsibility. If you only give partial responsibility, you only get partial results.” Lots of info there. First, the Scouts should be placed into patrols, to work as a group or team. Next, once they have formed, don’t go swapping Scouts around to balance numbers. It really wreaks havoc on teambuilding. Third, the Patrol Leader is in charge of the patrol, not an eager, well-meaning adult. Finally, we need to let the Patrol Leader really lead the patrol, even if that means they make mistakes along the way. Why? Because of B-P’s statement about getting results. The results he is talking about is not perfect campouts, but the development of character and leadership qualities. Those are learned by doing, and working through the consequences of getting it wrong on occasion.

So, let’s go back to B-P for some further insights: “There is no such thing as a troop campout. However, several patrols may choose to go camping at the same place and same time.” This is rather a strange comment, but what B-P is really leading us to is this understanding: The operational unit of Scouts, BSA is not the troop, it is the patrol. Patrols should plan and work together. They should shop and cook together. The Troop is there to provide the necessary support and adult oversight/coaching, but Scouting actually happens at the patrol level. We derail that method and the Patrol Leader’s development when we try to  do outings at the Troop level (activities, advancement, cooking). We need to be careful not to rob the Patrol Leader of their leadership opportunities.

One last comment from B-P: “There is only one good answer when a Scout asks a Scoutmaster a question. ‘Why don’t you ask your Patrol Leader? They know best!’” Indeed. We need to support Patrol leaders in their role, and not take over. We are no longer Den Leaders or Cubmasters. We are Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters, the coaches. Not the true leaders of the patrols or troop. The hardest part of the job is forcing ourselves to stand back and let them lead.

There is a session at the upcoming University of Scouting on the Patrol Method, specifically for adult and youth leaders of new troops. If you want to master the Patrol Method, it’s the perfect opportunity. Click here for University of Scouting

Click here to go back to #1 in the Scouts BSA Journey series

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