successful scouting units

10 Traits of Successful Scouting Units


What Successful Scouting Units All Tend To Have in Common

I’ve been involved in Scouting for the better part of 33 years, and in that time, I’ve been involved with an awful lot of scouting units. I’ve observed several things that all successful scouting units have in common. I hope that this describes your unit, or if it doesn’t, perhaps this will help get your unit going in the right direction.

Everybody Has Fun

Probably the most important part of any unit is making sure that everyone is having a good time. From the youngest scout to the oldest leader, when everyone is having fun, the world is a better place. The leaders don’t take themselves too seriously, and this lets everyone relax. There are certainly times to be solemn, reserved and respectful, but these are few and hopefully far between.

Disagreements Don’t Become Battles

For some reason, I think this happens more on the Cub Scout side. some disagreements can become all-out civil wars. I’ve seen friendships end, and normally sane, rational people draw lines in the sand over really trivial matters in Scouting. The problem is good people can tend to get a little self-righteous and start thinking that “I only want what’s best for the scouts.” The trouble with this thinking is that the other person thinks the exact same thing, and also wants “what’s best for the scouts.”

What’s best for the scouts is just about always cooler heads prevailing, and disagreements settled through respectful discussions.

New People Are Welcome

When a new family walks through the door, are they made to feel welcome, or like uninvited guests? Do people say hello to them? Are the older scouts willing to say hello to the younger scouts? Are new parents encouraged to volunteer?

New families should be given some form of a welcome packet with a schedule of events, job descriptions, and basic rules for the unit.  I did a quick Google search looking for a great example of a troop welcome packet. Troop 2 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has a great one. It’s clear, concise, and answers just about every question a new parent could have in a matter of a few pages. It lets you know when and where the meetings are, what the cancellation policy is, and what is expected of the parents.

We Get All the Big Arguments out of the way first

With few exceptions, the successful scouting units don’t tend to argue over everything. They don’t argue with the basics of the program. They aren’t always looking for ways around bylaws. There’s absolutely a place for innovating, trying new things, and questioning why things are done the way they are. Totally healthy to do that – but there’s a right way and a wrong way.

The right way is respectful and honest. The wrong way is hostile and accusatory.

It starts with respecting that all involved want what’s best for the kids. For the most part, the issues come from the method, not malicious intent.

Camping is a Regular Thing

This one’s a really great predictor of a successful scouting unit. Does your troop go camping once a month? Does your Cub Scout Pack go camping a couple of times a year, and do one pack outing once a month?

Who would sign up for the basketball team that doesn’t play any games?

You need to take the kids on “adventures.” Once a month they should show up to school with a story about their weekend that they’re teachers don’t quite believe. I’ll never forget answering my 7th-grade homeroom teacher’s question of “what did you did do this weekend?” with, “I climbed a snowy mountain in sub-zero temperatures.”

Involved Parents

Successful scouting units make parents feel valued. After all, if the parents aren’t taking the time to at least bring their kids to the meetings, you don’t have a unit. So already, they’re making a contribution. But can they do more?

Everybody is good at something, and nobody’s good at everything. Find out what the strengths of each parent is, and ask them to contribute that strength. Who’s good at carpentry? Who’s got the cool job that all the kids would love to see in action? Which parent is an accountant?

And of course, who loves working with kids?

Never feel guilty about asking someone to help the unit, so long as you ask in a respectful manner.

The Big Trip Happens

mount cardigan photo

Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire. Photo by ragesoss

When I was a kid, my troop in Northeastern Connecticut would travel three hours to the mountains of New Hampshire three or four times a year. Every other year we’d do a 50-miler across New Hampshire. I tended to wind up in Mr. B’s van, and we went so many times that I completely memorized the lyrics to all the songs on the one tape he had in the car – Charlie Daniels’ greatest hits. Whenever I hear The Devil Went Down to Georgia, I remember those trips.

One of the most successful scouting units I’ve ever worked with was Troop 26 from Old Lyme, Connecticut. Following them on Facebook was always exciting because you never knew where they were going to go next. They could go to Minnesota in February, or the Florida keys over the summer. The next time you’re struggling to get leaders to help out, start planning a Florida Keys trek.

Children like going on adventures. Even the idea of the big trip will build excitement in your unit. It gives people something to look forward to, other than the humdrum of weekly meetings. It creates memories. These trips become life-changing events – where kids learn they can do things when taken out of their comfort zones.

Everybody Knows Who They Can Ask for Help

One of my favorite Monty Python sketches, “The Penguin on the Television“, where John Cleese says to Graham Chapman that Doctor Bernowski “knows everything.” Chapman replies that “Oooh, I wouldn’t like that, that’d take all the mystery out of life.”

Fortunately or not, nobody knows everything. Nobody is expected to know everything. But you should know who you can ask to find out. Whether it be someone in the unit, or the district, or council, or whomever, does everybody have a pretty good idea of who they get help from when they need it? People need to know that someone will answer the phone when they’re really, really frustrated.

In Successful Scouting Units, Training Is Part of the Culture

Great units are made up of humble people. They know that no matter how much they know about anything, they can always learn more. So they make sure their leaders get trained. The excuse that “I’ve been camping since I was eight” doesn’t cut it. So they start with basic leader training and work their way up through Woodbadge.

There’s a HUGE difference between camping yourself or with your family, and going camping with 30 children.

But training should never be seen as an onerous task. It’s something you get to do. You get to go spend the weekend learning how to do a great program for kids. And you get to learn from smart, funny people who care. You also get to learn things from your fellow students, and you’ll probably laugh a whole lot more than you thought you ever would.

Succession Planning and Continuity

One of the biggest problems for many packs is that nobody knows who the new Cubmaster is going to be. Who’s going to be the new committee chair? The very nature of Cub Scouting leads to a high leadership turnover. Successful scouting units can tell you who the next committee chair is going to be. They know who will be Scoutmaster going to be for the next several years.

When I was first got to Northern Maine, I literally had a unit tell me that they were folding up the unit because the longtime Scoutmaster had passed away. I told them that surely he would want the unit to continue and that we should work together to find a new Scoutmaster. Their answer to this was… “the Scoutmaster is dead.”

Eleven years later I still can’t believe I lost that argument. It felt like an Abbott and Costello routine.

You don’t want this situation. For my article on how to avoid this situation, and how to recruit the right leaders, click here.

Photo by eugevon


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