How to keep your troop out of the ‘death spiral’

Handbook for Patrol LeadersWhat separates a successful Boy Scout troop from a foundering one? The answer hasn’t changed in a century.

It’s the patrol method, and it’s been around since at least 1920 when Scouting founder Lord Baden-Powell explained it in his Aids to Scoutmastership (link opens PDF).

“The Patrol System is the one essential feature in which Scout training differs from that of all other organizations, and where the System is properly applied, it is absolutely bound to bring success,” B-P writes. “It cannot help itself!”

But too often these days, adult leaders are reactionary when it comes to the patrol method. They start with good intentions, but when they see the slightest hiccup, they take the reins from the boys and run the troop themselves.

Clarke Green, who writes the excellent unofficial Scouting blog “Scoutmaster CG,” calls this the “troop program death spiral” in a recent post

He writes: 

When they apply the concepts and practices of the patrol method the first results are almost always disappointing from the adult perspective. Scouts seem to be incapable, incompetent, or lazy. Scouts’ efforts are disjointed, chaotic and fall far short of creating the orderliness and efficiency adults imagined they would. Instead of looking at this state of affairs as a positive indication of growing and developing leaders this ‘disappointment’ is viewed as a failure of the patrol method as an idea.

An adult-run troop works fine for a while, Green writes. There’s less uncertainty and trouble. The Scouts enjoy having their work done for them. But none of this lasts, he says.

Green continues:

Unless the adults are able to come up with more new and even more entertaining experiences the Scouts start to leave. Adults get upset when the Scouts don’t properly appreciate what is being done for them, this turns to frustration, hardens into resentment, and leads to rulemaking.

That attitude drives a lot of Scouts away, and when Scouts leave adults become even more resentful or upset. Adults are already fatigued from trying to hold things together and doing everything so things continue to spiral down.

Read Green’s entire post to see the benefit of sticking to the patrol method, even when the going gets tough. Much of the success of the patrol method relies not just on Scouts getting trained, but Scouters, too. Wood Badge, the phenomenal adult-leader training course, for example, bases its curriculum around a practical application of the patrol method. Scouters don’t just hear about its function, they live it for six days.

In the end, the key is perseverance. Don’t just abandon this time-tested method of Scouting delivery because you have a few bad meetings or campouts. Stick with it.

“It sounds a big order,” B-P writes, “but in practice it works.” He continues:

Then, through emulation and competition between Patrols, you produce a Patrol spirit which is eminently satisfactory, since it raises the tone among the boys and develops a higher standard of efficiency all round. Each boy in the Patrol realizes that he is in himself a responsible unit and that the honor of his group depends in some degree on his own ability in playing the game.

The patrol method in your troop

How do you successfully maintain the patrol method in your troop? How did you overcome those bumps in the road? Help your fellow Scouters by leaving a comment below.


H/T for the post idea to Mike Menninger

About Bryan Wendell 2800 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.