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.

24 thoughts on “Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 3: Models for Success

  1. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 2: Bringing the Vision to Life « Bryan on Scouting

  2. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 1: Living the Values « Bryan on Scouting

    • Randy, I could talk for hours about that element of the course. I considered it to be one of the most eye-opening, educational, and mentally taxing parts of Wood Badge.

        • The fact that every Woodbadger I meet is obsessed with not spoiling the course is one of the big things turning me off of Wood Badge. The course is supposed to be about making people better leaders – shouldn’t you be eager to share part of it to help other people become better leaders? Those people won’t get the benefit of the entire course taught by a staff that has spent countless hours practicing how to best teach it, but even if you take one small part of the course, it could completely change how another adult leader is approaching something and be vastly beneficial to the youth.

        • Brian, my goal with these posts is to pass along the messages and lessons of Wood Badge without mentioning the mechanisms used to deliver those messages. There’s a key difference.

          And really, it’s not that there are any secrets to Wood Badge that you can’t find if you try hard enough. As I said in Part 1, you could probably spend some time poking around Google and find out almost everything. Or you could ask someone to whom remaining spoiler-free isn’t a priority. Wood Badge alumni aren’t sworn to secrecy and some choose to share more than others.

          For me, though, I see the benefit in going in with a clean slate. My dad has staffed eight courses, and so I easily could have learned about every detail of Wood Badge had I wanted. Instead, he rightly told me that experiencing it with an open mind is much more meaningful.


        • I think that having an element of mystery gives you a much better version of what new boys in a unit feel. IOW, nothing wrong with knowing the general idea but I think a big part of wood badge is the experience of challenges and creating empathy for the boy’s perspective.

        • Your posts are exactly the sort of thing I’d like to see more of from Woodbadgers. Most Woodbadgers I know would just list off the stages of team development and then say ‘If you want to learn how that works, you need to take Wood Badge.’ The messages and lessons of Wood Badge should be shared and I think the mechanisms are fair game as well if that would be the most effective thing for the particular situation.

          I know a fair amount about what happens at Wood Badge and I’m sure I could find even more. I’m just bugged that so many Woodbadgers think that every single aspect of the course is something that can only be experienced while taking the course. They are basically saying ‘I know something that will help everyone out, but since you all didn’t take Wood Badge I’m not going to tell you.’ And the good Woodbadgers don’t stand out because they’re not constantly rattling off that they went to Wood Badge as the reason they’re not helping.

        • @Brian, If you have been thru any leadership training, WB is the same stuff – built for scouting. I have staffed on two courses. No secrets. It is more the experience than the telling. Telling the schedule would not teach you anything, any particular lesson or class would be just that class. WB is more. I think you will find the same staffers at other training events, doing their best to inform and educate.
          Try to make it to a course.

  3. As I watched the latest patrol I was TG over see the same thing you did – tasks needing to be completed in too short a time, it was a huge turn off for some of the participants. I just smiled and told them it would be OK. I often whispered in their ears “Everything is for a purpose.” And by the end of the course, they got it. There is a reason for everything in the course. And you are right. Whoever designed the course was an evil genius.

  4. Folks that don’t understand the true meaning of Scouting sometimes think of us as a “camping club”. Nothing can be further from the truth. We are not the same as youth sports teams, because the score isn’t as important as the pathway to the goal.

    If you ever think about it, one of the main reasons we have kids go camping (apart from their eagerness to do so) is to primarily give them a series of problems to learn to overcome. They have to figure out how put up shelter, cook meals, clean up, etc. with a group of peers. This builds their self-confidence, and ability to participate in and lead groups.

    Wood Badge gives our adults the ability to experience Scouting as our youth do, and thus better prepares them for their role of guiding Scouts through the leadership learning experience that every Tenderfoot faces.

    • It doesn’t need to be National. In Central New Jersey Council, we annually hold a “Wood Badge Dining-In” on Baden-Powell’s birthday, Feb 22. It’s run like a British Officers’ Mess or USAF Dining In with toasts, a formal dinner, songs, auctions, and fun etc. to raise money for our Wood Badge scholarship fund. Other councils are welcome to send representatives to one to get the idea and duplicate it in their own council.

  5. Ah, the Game of Life…cemented us in the short time we were allowed–so much so that we dragged our two patrol guides back and played another hour after dinner! Quite an eye-opening experience…probably the biggest of the course–the answers, not the questions! We’re hoping for a patrol reunion for next spring or summer!

  6. Pingback: Does anyone have a photo of the first woman Scoutmaster, Catherine Pollard? « Millard Fillmore's Bathtub

  7. I struggle with attending Wood Badge. Can someone tell me why it’s worth it? I’ve completed Powder Horn, I’m both a NOLS alumni and Instructor and I’m just about done completing my AMGA cert. What more about leadership can Wood Badge teach me? In my council it’s seen as the thing that “in-crowd” does and if you aren’t part of it, you aren’t part of the inner circle.

    • As a first time staffer, I had a whole new understanding and respect when recruiting for Wood Badge. Many adult leaders feel the same way as you. Already being an Instructor and having taken several high level training courses, what does Wood Badge have to offer for you? I pose this question to you, when a scout approaches you and asks why go to NYLT or similar courses what is your response? The experience of Wood Badge is the key to the course. The material is the background to building those experiences. It is through those events, that we all learn new ways to use those skills to better ourselves. I find it bringing new life and focus on those skills. Reminding me of what the youth and parent are going through and to clarify my focus moving forward as a leader. How many times would you go to Philmont? Is the experience of the trek what makes it so cherished? Or is it the skills themselves needed to complete the trek?

  8. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 4: Tools of the Trade « Bryan on Scouting

  9. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 5: Leading to Make a Difference « Bryan on Scouting

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