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Why is eight so great ...

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Some of the topics had mentioned patrol size. We've touched on this before in heated discussion quite a few years back (http://scouter.com/index.php/topic/8394-patrol-size/page-5), and it was recently brought up in Bryan's blog (http://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/forums/topic/ideal-troop-size/).

 

Eight, give or take a couple, most of us have found really works well for patrols. If we can get that many boys hiking and camping together regularly, their scouting experience seems to blossom.

 

So, this topic is simply to discuss why? Science, pseudoscience, silly jokes, all explanations welcome ...

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I think most Scouts have difficulty leading/managing/facilitating/controlling (pick your preferred synonymn) a group larger than 8. Thats probably where it comes from. Nothing too scientific and we let our Scouts experiment with bigger patrols if they want to.

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I'll also point out that most wilderness areas set a limit of no greater than 10 per party. More fragile areas may insist on even smaller numbers.

I've seen when those limits are ignored, some trails can feel like grand central station. (E.g., four groups of 8 people walking by my site over the course of an afternoon is actually kind of fun. If all 32 passed by at once, I'd feel stampeded.)

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Finally, I get to use my management degree.

 

The management phrase is "span of control".  This refers to how many people report directly to a leader.  Most organizations prefer to have as broad a span of control as possible, so that they will require fewer manager (less costs).

 

A narrow span of control is preferable for boy scouts for the following:

 

1.  Creates more leadership positions, so more boys get a chance at these positions (since scout are not paid salary costs are not a concern).

2.  Capability of Workers:  The less skilled the workers, the narrower has to be the span of control.  Since scouts are perpetually in a learning phase, this would justify a narrower span of control.

3.  Capability of the Leader:  The less capable a leader is, the narrower should be his span of control.  Since a Patrol Leader might be new to the position, this again would justify a narrower span of control.

4.  Variety of Tasks:  The more varied the tasks that a worker has to do, the narrower should be the span of control.  Scouting requires a large variety of tasks, so a narrower span of control is justified.

5.  Person-to-Person Contact:  The greater the person-to-person contact, the narrower should be the span of control.  Many large organizations have increased the number of people reporting directly to a supervisor, because of the increased use of information technology.  Since scouting relies on person-to-person contact for the majority.

 

So the conditions of scouting dictate a narrow span of control.  The "6 to 8" size is pretty classic and has been around forever.  It just seems to be a natural number for a group.  I read some of Baden-Powell's writing and he cited this as the number of boys who naturally form into a "gang", and he was trying replicate this with the patrols.  Any more and you get lost in a crowd, any less and it stops being a formal group and becomes a collection of individuals.

 

Full disclosure, based on my own personal experience, I have problems with the Patrol Method.  I favor the Pareto Principle (that states that 20% of the people do 80% of the work).  All small groups do is get in the way of the one-or-two people actually doing something.

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... Full disclosure, based on my own personal experience, I have problems with the Patrol Method.  I favor the Pareto Principle (that states that 20% of the people do 80% of the work).  All small groups do is get in the way of the one-or-two people actually doing something.

I think a lot of PLs would concurr with Pareto!

 

Although a first year scout may disagree, there really isn't a lot of work for a patrol on an average outing: get there, pitch camp, keep warm, make food, clean-up, strike camp. Plenty of slack time. If you had a specialty team of boys go around and set up shelter, would they get it done faster? Most definitely! Best cooks in the entire troop prepare meals? Sure, the food would be tastier! We seem to always have that one boy who loves to split wood. If we never let anyone else in the ax yard, we could have four walls and half a roof of stacked board by sunset.

 

But it's not really about perfect canvas, gormet meals, and a lumber yard. It's about taking care of your people. And I guess that's another reason for eight. If you're a slacker, there's seven people closest to you to call you out on it. It's a lot harder to slip through the cracks.

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Eight, give or take a couple, most of us have found really works well for patrols. If we can get that many boys hiking and camping together regularly, their scouting experience seems to blossom.

 

So, this topic is simply to discuss why? Science, pseudoscience, silly jokes, all explanations welcome ...

 

Because eight is the maximum number of names you can remember to figure out who is missing when you count seven boys as being present.

 

Full disclosure, based on my own personal experience, I have problems with the Patrol Method.  I favor the Pareto Principle (that states that 20% of the people do 80% of the work).  All small groups do is get in the way of the one-or-two people actually doing something.

 

 

That is the difference with servant leadership.  A servant leader's job is to encourage 100% of the people to do 150% of the work.  Suceeding as a team is more important than just suceeding.

 

In many of those 20% situations, the remaining 80% of the people want to make a contribution but they either: 1) don't know how they can contribute (lack of the leader coordinating skills with tasks); 2) they tune out because of the leader just giving  orders ("you do what I say"); or 3) they are edged out because the 20% do everything based on wanting it "done right" leaving them nothing to do.  The first problem is a lack of leadership - a leader needs to know capabilities of his patrol.  The second problem is a failure due to using authoratarian leadership where the focus is on telling people what to do rather than working together to complete a task.  The third failure is what I call DIY leadership - which isn't leadership at all.  Servant leadership is more difficult than the other types of "leadership."  If you look at adult-led troops you see all three situations which essentially suck the initiative out of the scouts.

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As a Cub Scout leader - I've found that 6-8 boys makes for a healthy den. 

 

I've had dens with 3-4 boys, but when one boy stops coming because of soccer and another moves out of town, now you've lost half the group.  If you recruit another 2-3 boys, the new boys outnumber the original crew, and you are starting from scratch in building a group identity.  Maybe one of the original boys doesn't like the dynamics of the new group, and he leaves and now you are down to 3-4 again... another stops coming because of basketball... and the vicious cycle continues.

 

I've had dens with 10-12 boys, and the best word I have to describe it is:  chaotic.  It's hard to keep a group of 10-12 boys on task - even for an adult den leader.  We've had larger dens drive away some people who either: a)don't like the chaos; b)can't handle the noise levels; or c)don't feel like they are getting enough individual attention.

 

From my experience, a healthy den is 6-8 boys.  At that size you are big enough to handle 1-2 boys leaving and not lose the group identity.  At that size the level of chaos is kept in check.  At that size, there are enough boys that they have fun, and most of the boys can make a more personal connection with at least one other boy with similar interests and personality.

 

From my perspective, Patrols of 6-8 work probably for many of the same reasons as dens of 6-8 - It's an easy size for a Patrol Leader and his Assistant to control (only another 4-6 boys besides them), the group is big enough that they can have an identity and not lose it if they lose 25-33% of their patrol members, and at that size they can have fun.

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I think most Scouts have difficulty leading/managing/facilitating/controlling (pick your preferred synonymn) a group larger than 8. Thats probably where it comes from. Nothing too scientific and we let our Scouts experiment with bigger patrols if they want to.

I don't think this is a limitation on only scouts or youth.  It's much broader than that

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http://scoutmastercg.com/aids-scoutmastership/#OneReason Why a Troop Should not Exceed Thirty Two

 

and I find it interesting that BP's number of 16 works out as a multiple of his idea patrol size

http://scoutmastercg.com/aids-scoutmastership/#ThePatrol System

 

I forget where I read it now, but I think it was BP who wrote about building the patrol method out of the gangs of friends in which boys tend to run around in or with.  I find it interesting that most of my life observations have proven these gangs or groups of friends tend to be in the range of 6-8 people.  This seems to be true in all ages and for most groups, not just boys.  

And Look at sports as another example.  How big are the teams?

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Since today is the 109th anniversary of the founding of the Scouting Movement at Brownsea Island, may I give a history lesson?  Brownsea was an experiment, BP wanted to test his ideas before writing them down. There were 22 Scouts divided among the Wolves, Bulls, Ravens, and CURLEWS ( :) ). Two patrols had 5 boys each, and two patrols had 6. Somehow BP figured out that 6 is the minimum a patrol should have.

 

He may have realized 8 is the optimum number based upon Brownsea, or maybe other experiences, i.e. his military  experience. Maybe he got the idea for 8 from the BOYS BRIGADE organization, that BP initially tried to get Scouting incorporated into their program.

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And in an parallel thought, when I learnt software design, we got taught that some sort of funny bubble diagram of whatever methodology it was should have 7 +/-2 items on them, i.e. between 5 and 9, as the theory was that any more than 9 was too much for the brain to take in, and 5 too few to really show anything.

 

Then if you look at how the army patrol Baden Powell would have sent out was formed, I'm sure I saw a diagram with the patrol spread out like a cross. Tricky with 5, too noisy with 9?

 

8, any more than that and you won't fit in a big patrol tent.

 

An even number so you all fit in two man tents.

 

Can split into two teams of four for tag team wrestlemania.

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Personally I have found 5 a good number for me to manage so me+5=6 so I would concur. When I start getting 9 someone is getting neglected and if it gets up to 13-14 it needs to break into 2 groups. I found this to be true for managing landscapers, graduate students, bureaucrats, and Band Parents. It also seems to work for Scouts and does not seem that much affected by technology in my experience.

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Yah, I like to see 6-8 lads in a patrol in the field.  Makes cooking about right primarily; also gives yeh a couple of guys to hang with when you're pissed off at one or two others.  :D

 

That having been said, I think in da modern world for most troops it's best to have slightly larger patrols than that.  Attendance figures in, eh?  If you're a fairly typical troop and your attendance averages 60 - 70%, then the ideal patrol size becomes 9-12 so that yeh average 6-8 on a campout.  If yeh just go with a patrol of 6, then odds are once yeh factor in attendance you'll have Patrol Collapse Disorder where a patrol falls below 4 boys and there's pressure to "combine patrols" on outings.  

 

Beavah

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When one plans to have boys miss events it will happen. If my buddies need for me to be there attendance will improve. I'm more apt to skip if I am not really needed. If only 2 out of 8 show up, it is time to recruit either the missing members or find new ones.

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yeah, i see Beavah's point.... but I'm with Stosh on this one

 

maybe thinking that IF it's a group like that with a bit sketchier attendance, then going up to 9 maybe at the high end, but creeping up to 12 takes it to the double patrol territory and things start falling apart a bit.

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