Democracy in the committee

“All in favor, say Aye.”

How often do you hear that in your committee meetings?

If you’re doing things right, you shouldn’t.

That’s because the troop committee isn’t a legislative body and doesn’t make decisions based on what most of the committee members agree with. Some time ago, I was part of a panel discussion on one of Clarke Green’s Scoutmaster podcasts on the function of the troop committee. I made the statement that The troop committee is not a democracy and it caught the ear of one of my readers, who wrote:

I wonder if you might elaborate on that a bit- specifically, what kinds of decisions can be made by the Scoutmaster and committee chair between themselves, and when does the chartered organization representative need to be included. Does the committee “approve” the plans the boys come up with by vote, or do they tacitly agree to support whatever they come up with (as long as the Scoutmaster agrees the plans are within the bounds of Scouting etc.)? What constitutes trespassing on program issues that should be the Scoutmaster’s prerogative?

I replied that my viewpoint is that the troop committee’s function is to assist and support the Scoutmaster in implementing the plans that the Scouts make. The Scoutmaster guides the Scouts into making plans that conform to the aims and methods of Scouting and the rules of the Boy Scouts of America and the chartered organization. He or she shares those plans with the troop committee, which then makes available the resources necessary to carry those plans out, or at least the resources that the Scouts can’t provide for themselves.

As such, the committee doesn’t really “vote” on anything. If the plans that the Scoutmaster brings to the committee aren’t appropriate for some reason, the committee chair would discuss it with the Scoutmaster who takes it back to the patrol leaders’ council. An example would be if the Scouts wanted to do something that was not permitted by safety rules, like hunting with rifles or going bungee jumping.

If the plans that the Scouts make seem out of reality, such as an Alaskan  backcountry expedition or a trip to the International Scout Centre in Switzerland, the Scoutmaster takes it back to the Scouts and asks them how the troop could overcome the obstacles – travel, training, equipment, funding to name a few. The troop committee doesn’t just say “no, we’re not going to do that.” If the Scouts want to do something badly enough, they’ll find a way to make it happen for themselves – with the committee pitching in where the Scouts can’t.

On business matters, the troop committee should arrive at answers by consensus, rather than by voting. An example might be deciding which tents to buy. Rather than all in favor of Big Agnes, say ‘aye’, you’d have a discussion and evaluation (and that could use some Scout input), and gravitate toward a decision that’s agreeable all around.

Looking at things this way, it eliminates a lot of bickering, debate and argument and centers on doing what’s best for the Scouts.

The chartered organization representative should be kept informed of what’s going on in the troop and have a say in the troop’s activities to make sure they are in alignment with the chartered organization’s values. For instance, a troop chartered to a Jewish congregation might be expected to observe the high holy days and not go camping on those weekends.

By coming to agreement by all concerned on all fronts, you can make sure everyone has a voice and the decisions made by the committee are something that everyone can support.

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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