Way to Go, Girls!
Team-Building at Its Best

If the girls in your troop are close in age, you might assume they're alike and treat them as a single unit. But successful team building is a result of recognizing each girl's individuality.

Though girls of similar ages frequently have many things in common (almost all share concerns about fitting in), Girl Scout troops and groups are as diverse as the communities they're drawn from. Girls may be from varied ethnic, cultural and/or socioeconomic groups, may speak different languages at home, practice different religions, observe different customs and rituals and have different interests. Certainly, you can be sure that all of your girls will have individual personalities. What's a leader to do?

Appreciate the Differences

Dorothy Kennedy, training and adult development consultant at GSUSA, believes it's very important a leader understand the developmental characteristics of the girls she's working with. "Being knowledgeable about learning and growth processes for different age–levels enables leaders to spark and maintain the interest of the girls," she says, "so necessary for building a strong and unified team." Ms. Kennedy also maintains that her many years of training leaders, as well as working directly with girls, has taught her the importance of not having any preconceived ideas — other than to expect the unexpected. "Each girl is unique," she says, "and the group that they become part of will be different from any other group you may have had. Always being surprised by how a group develops is, to me, one of the best parts of working with the girls. It's always new and exciting."

GSUSA Resources Can Help

Before your first meeting, avail yourself of age-level training and take the time to review the GSUSA leaders' guides, handbooks, "issues" booklets and any other related materials. These resources provide important information for understanding the emotional, social, physical and intellectual development of girls at each age–level. Suggestions for meaningful and age-appropriate team-building activities are also included.

Keep in mind that GSUSA program materials are primarily intended as guidelines. Leaders are urged to be flexible and willing to adapt requirements or ideas to suit the particular needs of the girls they serve.

Girls Take Charge

In Girl Scouting, adults are encouraged to act as partners — to guide the action of the group when necessary — but to step back when possible to allow the girls to take the lead. Results of a GSUSA survey confirm that girls believe Girl Scouting provides a sense of belonging, encourages respect for others, offers opportunities to be helpful and a team player, and gives girls a chance to learn how to make good decisions and be an able leader.

Meeting a New Group

The first few meetings of a new group, especially with younger girls, may be more adult-directed, but after a get-acquainted period, leadership should be shared with the girls (as appropriate), gradually giving them more and more responsibility. Be prepared for some contradictory behavior — it's perfectly normal for girls to crave the warm security of the group one moment — asking for guidance and direction, and in the next moment to exhibit their independence by acting on their own. Sometimes, they can be remarkably empathetic and mature — at other times, strikingly self-absorbed and immature. No matter which "stage" the group may be going through, the girls still rely on their leaders to provide support and encouragement while creating an atmosphere of fairness and fun.

Generally, the most cohesive groups are those working cooperatively toward a common goal. Just as "success builds on success," the more unified a group is, the more appealing it is to its current members — and the more enticing to potential members.

Following are some tips for building your team:

As a leader, you'll discover that the joy of doing things together is even more important than what you do. Remember, it's the journey, as well as the destination that counts, and you're the one providing the map.

Stages of Group Development

Have you ever belonged to a group that took on a life of its own? A group that was dynamic, stimulating and thriving? Successful groups often pass through predictable stages.

Stages are fluid. One doesn't necessarily end as another begins, nor is there an exact time period for each.

Stage 1: Girls interact politely at the start, but generally are not ready to jump right in.

Stage 2: There is a period of some tension. A level of competitiveness and resistance is noticeable.

Stage 3: Power struggles and/or open conflict may ensue, as well as great potential for change and an ability to make things happen.

Stage 4: The leader usually can breathe a sigh of relief; things have calmed down and group cohesion and agreement begin to emerge.

Stage 5: Voila! You and the girls experience feelings of intimacy, trust, and success.

Note: Smaller groups (from five to 13 members), which allow for more interaction and increased participation, are usually more unified than larger ones.

Adapted from LEADER, Spring 2003. © Girl Scouts of the United States of America.