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Starting a cooperative or co-op troop is a great way to share responsibility and empower the troop to expand without overburdening a single leader. In a co-op troop, all troop parents work together to share leader responsibilities whereas in a traditional troop model, two unrelated adults act as leader and co-leader with the rest of the parents serving in other important roles like troop treasurer, drivers, chaperones, and more.
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Our troop is in our seventh year as a co-op troop. We have nine girls in our troop; all our troop parents work full time, and three of those parents have leadership roles in other troops for their younger daughters! Being a troop leader takes hard work, and we all have many different responsibilities outside of Girl Scouts. But balancing the workload between parents has allowed us to keep our troop intact for a long time.
If this cooperative troop strategy sounds like it might be right for you, we’ve mapped out five steps to success.
Step 1: Get ready to work together
There are a few things you need to do to make sure all troop parents are ready to lead your troop in a safe and responsible way that supports Girl Scout objectives.
- Register with GSUSA. All parents in the co-op troop need to be registered as Troop Friends and Family and complete the online background check. This will make it possible for all parents to act in the leadership capacity, run meetings, supervise girls, and manage money.
- Get trained. It’s a great idea for all troop parents to complete as much of the online training as possible so they can be clear on Girl Scout philosophy, rules, and policies.
- Collect troop resources for easy handoff. Package troop emergency contact information, permission and health history forms, first aid kit, and troop meeting materials like pens, tape, scissors, and sticky notes in a box or bag that can easily be passed from parent to parent.
Step 2: Decide how to share responsibility
In a traditional troop, the troop leader or co-leaders supervise the girls, encourage the girls to assist in the planning, organize and support troop fundraising, attend service unit meetings every month, and a variety of other responsibilities. While there needs to be an official leader, there are a lot of ways to share responsibility in a co-op troop.
- Rotate leader and co-leader roles. Parents take turns as the troop leader or co-leader for a year or two.
- Share responsibility for Service Unit meetings. Each parent attends one of the monthly leader meetings and reports back to the troop.
- Map roles to interests, skills, and strengths. In addition to someone in the leader and co-leader roles, troops also need a treasurer, first aider, Troop Cookie Manager, and Fall Product Sale Manager. Your troop might also want someone to take the lead on Camping or Backpacking certification, be a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Award Advisor, or coordinate community service activities.
Step 3: Find the right way to share information
Sharing leadership and responsibility with many other parents can get complicated without clear communication. Easy access to information and open discussion is key for busy parents; these tips should get you started.
- Hold troop parent meetings. Parents meet regularly to decide the troop meeting schedule, location, and discuss roles. Meetings don’t always have to be in person—video chats or group calls can work just as well as a face-to-face meeting for busy parents.
- Create a sharing site. Sites like Shutterfly make it possible for troop parents to engage in decision making, get meeting or badge resources, and sign up for activities and events.
- Use group text. Texting is a great way to get each other’s attention or send reminders about upcoming events without interrupting anyone’s busy schedule.
Step 4: Adapting your style to your girl’s age group
As your girls get older, consider shifting your approach to managing troop meetings to adjust to the girls’ needs.
Here are suggestions for each level of Girl Scouts:
- Daisies & Brownies. Each parent leads a meeting and works with her own girl to pick the badge, bring the snacks and supplies, and host the event.
- Juniors. At the Junior level, badge activities get more complex and meetings more involved. Each meeting can be hosted by two girl/parent teams to work together to create the agenda and lead the meeting and badge activity.
- Cadettes & Older. Badges at this level usually take more than one meeting to complete. High adventure activities might involve overnight trips. Outdoor activities might involve special training or equipment. Consider breaking into small committees of girls that will each lead the troop in a particular area with a parent providing support in a mentoring or coaching capacity.
Step 5: Keep it girl led
One of the great things about the co-op model is that the parents have a greater opportunity to get involved more deeply, but make sure you don’t lose sight of the girl-led approach.
- Use surveys to focus on what girls want. Consider sending out an annual girl-led planning survey or feedback surveys after meetings or events. Tools like SurveyMonkey are great ways to quickly capture feedback from girls about what they want to do. Paper-based surveys work just as well.
- Communicate directly to the girls. When parents are so deeply involved, it’s easy to assume the girls are getting all the information they need from their parents. Instead, be sure to share the troop meeting schedule, reminders, decisions, and survey feedback directly with girls.
- Reinforce girls’ ideas and priorities during parent meetings and discussions. Make sure that all parents are fully informed about girls’ ideas and interests. Share survey results or meeting summaries so all parents in the troop have all the information they need to support the girls in achieving their goals.
After seven years of working with the co-op troop model, our group of older Girl Scouts is thriving. Each of our parent leaders has different skills, strengths, and experiences to share with the girls. No one person or leader can guide the girls in their exploration of all that incredible stuff. We think the co-op model is a great way for any troop to embrace the full breadth of what Girl Scouts has to offer and hope you will too!
What to do next:
- From recruiting parent volunteers to thanking them, check out our other blog posts on working with parents.
- Looking for a related read? Read Girl Scouts River Valleys’ Better Together: How to Lead a Co-Op Troop.
Jackie Callahan—Jackie is one of the leaders for Cadette Troop 62061 located in San Jose, California, and also works as a communications consultant for companies in the Silicon Valley area. Girl Scouts has been an incredible joy and learning experience as she and the other leaders have helped the girls build some amazing memories: earning the Bronze Award, Golden Gate Bridging, indoor skydiving, high ropes at Skylark Ranch to name a few. She finds that the mix of personalities amongst the troop girls and co-op leaders creates a really powerful dynamic that continues to propel the troop toward new and different experiences.