The Girl Scout Cadettes in our troop had sold boxes of cookies. They had made headbands, ornaments, and bath bombs to sell at our holiday boutique. They ran a successful garage sale three summers in a row. Our troop bank account was proof that their hard work and dedication paid off and now it was finally time for them to decide where to go on their long-anticipated troop travel adventure!
And they couldn’t decide.
It’s not that they each didn’t have ideas, but two of our five Cadettes were overly vocal and negative, and the quieter girls hesitated to voice their opinions. The two who were vocal made suggestions that were wildly out of budget.
After several unproductive meetings, everyone was frustrated and tired of spending all their troop time endlessly discussing options, but never reaching consensus. My co-leader and I decided it was time for a different approach. We decided to break the process into three smaller decision-making sessions so each troop meeting wasn’t only about planning the trip.
- We started with a brainstorming session, asking them to list the kinds of activities they wanted to do on the trip. We reminded them that the primary rule of brainstorming is that every idea is placed on the list—without comment or protest. This was a challenge for our naysayers, but after a few reminders, they stopped their critiques.
- At our second mini-session, we gave each girl a list of the activities they had brainstormed and asked them to place a check mark next to the ones they were most interested in. They also agreed to narrow down a world of possible travel destinations to four that could be visited in a five-day road trip: Omaha, Nebraska (to the west); Madeline Island, Wisconsin (to the east); Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada (to the north), and a “staycation” option in the Twin Cities metro-area.
- At our third mini-session, we discussed each destination’s unique attractions and they learned that they could check many items off the brainstorm list for whichever destination they chose. We gave them each a secret ballot and had them spread throughout the room to rank the four destinations in order of preference.
When we tallied the votes, my co-leader and I weren’t surprised that there wasn’t a runaway winner. But we were surprised that the Twin Cities staycation received the most points. The girls seemed surprised and a little bewildered too.
At our next troop meeting, we got down to the nitty-gritty of planning our Twin Cities staycation and the mood in the room was rather glum. Everyone knew that the decision had been made with everyone’s full and equal participation, but one-by-one, the girls began talking among themselves.
“I would much rather go to Canada,” one said.
“Me too,” another admitted.
“Why aren’t we going to Canada?” someone else asked.
They looked around the circle and suddenly realized, after six long months of wrangling back and forth, that they had finally reached consensus.
“Can we change our minds?” they asked us. “Can we go to Canada instead?”
The dates for our trip were already set in stone, and it was a quick scramble to get our paperwork into the council and get approval for what was now an international trip. Plus, certified birth certificates had to be gathered and consent to travel forms signed and notarized by parents so we could meet border patrol requirements—but we did it!
And our leisurely road trip up Lake Superior’s North Shore to Thunder Bay and back was glorious. Each day’s highlight was surpassed by the next—a stop at an adventure park with a ropes course and zip-lining, meeting a First Class Girl Scout while sailing on Lake Superior, popping wild rice at Historic Fort William in Thunder Bay, gazing in awe at constellations in the pitch-black sky and telling stories about the myths behind their names, feeling the spray of Kakabeka Falls (Canada’s “Niagara of the North”), hiking to Minnesota’s tallest waterfall in Grand Portage State Park, and learning about wolves and other wildlife rescued at the Wildlife Service Center. Everyone got to experience at least one favorite activity from the brainstorm list and had fun trying new things.
But, even more importantly—these five 14-year-old girls spent a week of travel in a cramped SUV with very little bickering, lots of cooperation, and even a bit of bonding. Three bridged to Girl Scout Seniors as we crossed the bridge at Grand Portage State Park. And this Girl Scout troop leader learned that consensus can’t be forced to make an appearance, but with a little guidance and a lot of patience, sometimes it shows up all on its own.
Nina Gilliam –Nina is a public relations consultant in Chanhassen, MN. She loves co-leading her troop of Girl Scouts Seniors and also serves on the Autumn Ridge/Southern Stars Service Unit team.