Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 3: Models for Success

As Models for Success go, it’s tough to top course Scoutmaster John Stone (left) and Senior Patrol Leader Bill Hemenway.

As anyone who’s watched Survivor can attest, grouping a bunch of people together and giving them a name doesn’t make them an effective team.

No, if you want to morph a collection of individuals into a cohesive group, you’ll need good leadership, willing teammates, and ample time.

That was certainly the case for the Owl patrol at the Wood Badge course I took in August at Philmont.

We arrived as strangers and left as lifelong friends.

I know, I know. I could’ve taken that line right out of a Hallmark card. But Wood Badge veterans know this is true: The course offers a better firsthand lesson in effective team development than anything else out there.

That’s the concept behind my third installment of Wood Badge Wednesdays: Models for Success. (If you want to catch up, please read Part 1 and Part 2.)

Wood Badge allows Scouters to experience Baden-Powell’s vision for a perfect, youth-led Scout troop. Participants don’t just read about how Scouting should be run — we eat, sleep, and drink it for six full days.

By the end of the course, each leader walks away with practical skills that instantly apply back home. But that concept of “strangers to teammates” only describes the beginning and end. What happens in the middle? Well, let’s just say it’s no cake walk.

Stages of Team Development

This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a patrol… work together and have their lives changed… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real.

Move over, MTV. Wood Badge is closer to The Real World than anything you’ll find on TV.

Wood Badge patrols — and all teams, really — are developed in four distinct stages, as Scott Rohrman, an assistant Scoutmaster on our course, explained.

Take a look, and as you’re reading, consider how they apply to both your work and Scouting roles.

  • Forming: Like a pile of pickup sticks, everyone’s moving in several directions without any sense of where to go or who does what. Everyone is tentative and polite.
    • Major issues: personal well-being, acceptance, and trust
  • Storming: The group is at odds with one another. Disagreements are common, and subgroups form that polarize the team. Communication breaks down.
    • Major issues: power, control, and conflict
  • Norming: Issues from “Storming” are addressed and resolved, boosting morale. Technical skills increase, and there’s more clarity, trust, and cohesion. Team members start saying “we” more than “I.”
    • Major issues: sharing of control and avoidance of conflict
  • Performing: Productivity and morale are high. Purpose, roles, and goals are clear. Mutual respect and trust abound.
    • Major issues: continued refinements and growth

Us Against the World

The entire Wood Badge course is designed to be an obstacle course for your emotions.

Every bump, U-turn, and roadblock along the way is placed there intentionally by the creators of the course. And the purpose behind all of these obstacles becomes clearer and clearer the farther away I get from Wood Badge.

It’s like that old Rube Goldberg-like game Mouse Trap. The Wood Badge participants are the marble, and the course designers and staffers build the machine. Each action propels us right into the next action, which sends us into the next one, and so on. We’re just along for the wild ride.

During the course, though, I can’t have been the only one wondering what kind of sick, twisted person designed this crazy course.

I mean, 10 minutes to complete a task that needs at least an hour? Come on!

But as it turns out, the course designers weren’t crazy. More like evil geniuses. They realized the group-strengthening power of forcing a team into an “us against the world” mentality.

Throughout the course, staffers rushed us from task to task, intentionally creating the same kind of stress we often put on our Scouts.

But the Owls became united in our defiance. We said: “They think we can’t finish this in the amount of time we have. Let’s show them they’re wrong!”

By then we were Performing like a well-oiled machine. We turned chaos into opportunity, and it bonded us with permanent glue.

But Wood Badge doesn’t let up. It introduces more crazy contraptions into the course, nearly enough to make us lose our marbles. That’s intentional, too.

As Rohrman told us, “It’s good to introduce things that cause our Scouts to ‘Storm.'”

This can be an activity that challenges their minds or a trip that tests their physical limits. Either way, know that if a team isn’t moving forward, it’s regressing. What stage are your Scouts in?


Wood Badge Wednesdays

This is Part 3 of a five-part series called Wood Badge Wednesdays. Here’s the schedule for the entire series; each week I’ll explore one of the five central themes of Wood Badge for the 21st Century:

  1. Living the Values (Sept. 12)
  2. Bringing the Vision to Life (Sept. 19)
  3. Models for Success (this post)
  4. Tools of the Trade
  5. Leading to Make a Difference (Oct. 24)

It’s Your Move

Ready to take Wood Badge for yourself? Start by contacting your local council to learn how.

You’ll either take a weeklong course, like I did, or a course that spans two nonconsecutive weekends. Either way, you’re in for the time of your life!

Anyone from any council also has the opportunity to sign up for Circle Ten Council’s Wood Badge course at Philmont. The next course is held in August 2013 at Scouting’s paradise in New Mexico. The course Web site isn’t up yet, but here’s the placeholder link to keep on your radar.

About Bryan Wendell 2818 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.