Chapter 3 - Applying The Patrol Method

There is a method to the groups of groups that make up the White Stag leadership development experience. We didn't invent it. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, did. It's called the Patrol Method. Baden Powell's Insight

In 1888, BP wrote,

The formation of the boys into Patrols of from six to eight and training them as separate units each under its own responsible leader is the key to a good Troop.

The Patrol is the unit of Scouting always, whether for work or for play, for discipline or for duty. An invaluable step in character training is to putresponsibility on to the individual. This is immediately gained in appointing a Patrol Leader to responsible command of his Patrol. It is up to him to take hold of and to develop the qualities of each boy in his Patrol. It sounds a big order, but in practice it works.

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 realises that he is in himself a responsible unit and that the honour of his group depends in some degree on his own ability in playing the game.1

This, he felt, was Scouting's most essential contribution to education.

Twenty years later, commenting on the successful use of the patrol method, he says, "The sum of the whole thing amounts to this--every individual in the patrol is made responsible, both in den and in camp, for his definite share in the successful working of the whole."2

The values a participant in White Stag acquires in White Stag acquires have a lot to do with the quality of his experience as a member of a small team. We use the patrol method deliberately--not just because of the program's roots in Scouting. The origins and basis for the patrol concept are grounded in society at large. No one individual could run an organization of several hundred members; there must be subgroups.

Social research has confirmed the fact (many years after Baden-Powell intuited it) that the best size group, the one that functions most effectively, has from 6-9 members. Why? And what does this contribute to the White Stag program and to an individual's experience.

The team is a natural sized group. Most boys and girls naturally run around in groups of 6-9.

Forming Patrols

The process of bringing a group of strangers together for a week and expecting them to get along under stressful circumstances requires special care. As the manager of learning, you have an opportunity to have a terrifically positive impact on someone's self esteem if you manage the group right.

Patrols go through three stages after the members are gathered together:

The leader is the one who helps them apply the competencies of leadership.

Certain competencies are particularly useful during these three stages. As the patrols in this training troop go through these stages, we have the ideal setting and reasons for studying those competencies.

This is why the first few days of the week-long summer camp experience are loaded with the competency studies, to correspond to the situation most teams are in at that time. After they are operating pretty well as patrols, then they can learn some refinements or special techniques leaders ought to have.

The necessary process of creating patrols is coincident with the process of exposing the participants to the leadership development curriculum. In the White Stag program, they are not separable. The are symbiotic, if you will, as each complements the other.

The Patrol Duty Roster

Youth staff patrol members fulfill specific roles during staff training events and the candidate participants do the same during summer camp. These roles are listed in the patrol duty roster and among participants, are typically rotated daily. For instance, in a patrol of 6-8 members, no one will have to wash dishes more than once during the 7-day summer camp. These roles, while seemingly trivial, are essential to the patrol method, allowing individuals practice at a variety of roles.

Patrol Leader

The leader of the total organization and checks each job when completed; campsite clean up is the responsibility of the entire patrol as a group; arranges for patrol to be on time for all schedules events; insures guests are invited as needed; attends all Troop Leader's Council meetings.

Assistant Patrol Leader/Head Cook

Attends cooks meeting with adult commissary director daily; checks daily menu and food list against supply; cooks and serves meals on time; arranges for hot water for clean up; replaces all unused food items in proper food storage areas, or returns them to the kitchen; keeps food cupboard and patrol box clean; in charge of all kitchen activities during meal preparation and clean up time.

Assistant Cook/Grubmaster

Generally assists head cook in patrol cooking area; sets tables prior to meal; keeps food counter clean during and after meal preparation period; replaces all unused cooking utensils in proper storage area.

Second Assistant Cook/Songleader

Generally assists head cook; prepares all vegetables (fresh); arranges for all canned food items to be available to cook; puts all garbage in proper cans, using plastic liners; maintains grease/water pit, as needed; maintains garbage cans: cleans, arranges for garbage pickup.


Starts and maintains all cooking fires; puts out all cooking fires after meals; cleans stove and stove accessories; collects wood and maintains wood yard; keeps axe sharp and clean; develops and maintains tool area; keeps patrol notes as needed; issues written invitations to meal guests.


Has water available for cooks during meal preparation; responsible for latrine clean up and maintenance (inside and out); maintains water in all fire pails; maintains water supply areas; checks-out and returns all patrol equipment.

Kitchen Police

Cleans and scrubs table, washes silverware, cups, eating dishes and sterilizes same, in that order; arranges for all clean up equipment; keeps kitchen and dining area clean.

Assistant Kitchen Police

Washes all cooking gear, stores same; responsible for over-all cleanliness and proper storage; cleans and maintains cooking area; works on camp improvements in kitchen area.

Identifying Leadership Skills

In White Stag, we believe that we can learn about leadership by studying the right things a leader does. So in forming a patrol--and selecting a leader--we must employ and teach these right things, the skills of leadership, or "competencies."

Competency means, "The state or quality of being adequately or well qualified; ability," or "A specific range of skill, knowledge, or ability.3" Thus, to possess and exemplify a collection of competencies is to be endowed with the qualities of leadership.

In White Stag, we have standardized on eleven major competency groups that we believe a leader ought to know. Some people may assert that there should be more, or perhaps even less, but we have chosen the eleven competencies we name with deliberate care. Each of these competencies are treated in detail in individual chapters later in this book, as noted.

Youth are accustomed to being organized into groups and teams. It is hard for them to realize that only by studying how a patrol or team is formed can the learners learn what a leader needs to do to help form a group.

The order in which the competencies are studied is very important. See Chapter 7 - "Leadership Development By Design"for more information on the process of creating groups and teaching leadership competencies.

Developing Patrol Spirit

It is difficult to see inside people--so we usually estimate "what's going on" within by external signs. These are often culturally biased conventions or stereotypes and can be dead wrong if not offensive to the individual being judged. But in tight knit organizations like Scouting, groups that are really welded together often show this by taking pains to create symbols of their group spirit. One can't create patrol spirit by devising a special T-shirt or flag or composing a song or yell--even if it's great. But a patrol of team that adopts even a not-so-great song with real enthusiasm has something going for it.

The patrol flag, song, yell, totem, hat, T-shirt, and the like are only important in this experience because, if they don't happen here, they very likely will not happen back home. The desire to create these must come from within the patrol members. They must not be told outright that they must have these items, but they should know that it's important. Some patrols may create very few of these symbols, but keep your eye on them--more than likely they are not working as a group.

How do we subtly get the groups to use these methods of exhibiting spirit?

Recognition when any of these items appear in a patrol must be immediate, public, and appropriate. The first team is the most difficult; after these the others will fall in line. They, too, will want recognition. Sometimes agreeing on the symbol of unity will create the necessary desire for unity among patrol members.

While helping participants create their patrol, you must be able to reach them in a manner they understand.

What can be done to develop pride in the patrol? How can the love behind the patrol name be shared in such a way as to stimulate group loyalty? In what way can smartness of the patrol at troop assemblies and appearance of their campsite contribute to the pride of belonging?

Can the leader use informal guided group discussions as a means of developing common understandings on subjects of mutual interest? For example, posing leadership problems at odd moments, such as at meals? Can the leader use case histories of outstanding members? Would a guided discussion led by the group leader or counselor help all members to broaden their understanding of their own job and their relation to other officers in the group?

How can a leader help each of the team members during the week in camp grow in the members' understanding of the functions of a leader? How can the leader or counselor help improve the members' skill in fulfilling these functions, as well as to realize they have become more capable in these respects?

If the learner isn't able to sense his own progress, he will become discouraged and lose "heart". The very act of talking about group issues tends to bring people together, strengthening the bonds between them and heightening their experience.

To summarize, in order to develop patrol spirit or group pride, the leader must:

Developing Morale

The leader clearly sets the tone for morale. How he behaves and what he expects from staff members is the key example in the group. Whatever the leader expects from staff members, staff members also expect from their leaders. This includes:

Raising Learners to Your Expectations

Each group member wants to know what is expected of him or her. People often rise or sink to the level of expectation others give them. So talk and act affirmatively about what you believe each individual and the group is capable of.

You need to:

[1] Baden-Powell, Robert. A Guide to Scoutmastership. A Guidebook for Scoutmasters on the Theory of Scout Training. 1888. The complete text of this book can be found on the PineTreeWeb. Also found in selections from The Scouter, edited by Lord Somers, Baden-Powell's Outlook. London: C. Arthur Pearson Ltd., 1941.

[2] Baden-Powell, Robert. Scouting for Boys. London: C. Arthur Pearson Ltd., a Facsimile Edition of the Original, 1908/1951.

[3] The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. op. cit.

Copyright © 1981— , Brian Phelps. All rights reserved. Short portions may be excerpted for review and quotes. For copyright purposes, only introductory portions of this book are available online. Order the newest edition today.