Making decisions as a group can be tough, especially in a setting like Girl Scouts, where you want to keep your troop’s decisions girl-led but also don’t want anyone to feel left out.
It may seem like something small, but getting your girls to participate in the planning of their Girl Scout experience is actually really, super, majorly important. It also requires a ton of group decision-making. As such, you should take the time to brainstorm and plan with your girls whenever possible: at the end of the year, at the beginning of the year, when you finish a big project—and whenever else it makes sense to do so. Co-creating and planning side-by-side with your troop helps to create buy-in with your girls around the activities they’ll be doing, it helps them stay focused on their goals, cuts down on complaining and general dissatisfaction, and it keeps things girl-led, which is kind of a big deal for girls and their personal growth!
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As a troop leader, it’s a good idea to have a few different planning tools in your back pocket, since we all communicate in different ways. (Something that’s true and relevant in all areas of our lives, not just Girl Scouts!) By being able to identify the members of your troop who might be shy to speak up or more outgoing in group conversations, you can help steer your girls towards a process that works best for them, ensuring that each girl feels comfortable and welcome in the conversation.
Most important of all, discussions and decision-making should be fun! So whether you’re deciding how to spend your cookie earnings, figuring out which badges to complete next year, or choosing a snack for your troop meetings, here are 9 tried-and-true ways to host awesome brainstorming sessions and make group decisions that everyone can be happy about.
Gathering Ideas from the Troop
Before making any kind of group decision, the first step is to collect ideas! To help you get started, here are a few effective ways to get your girls thinking and sharing their thoughts:
Brainstorm Graffiti Sheet: If not every girl in your troop is a verbal communicator, you might try hanging up a white board or a large sheet of paper on the wall at each meeting where girls can log new ideas or add to the ideas other girls have already written. Depending on the size of your group or the topics you need to brainstorm, you can choose to keep the same sheet of paper going all year long or swap it out with a fresh sheet for every meeting. You might even try asking a new question each week! Here are some ideas: What badges do you want to earn this year? What are your favorite Girl Scout activities? How do you want to celebrate your bridging this year?
Just remember that, if you hang up a new sheet of paper each week, make sure to save all of the old sheets to look back on at a later time!
Jelly Bean Game: Sometimes it can be difficult for every girl to get a word in during group conversations, so this is a great tool for making sure each girl has the chance to let her voice be heard! During your brainstorming session, give each girl an equal number of jelly beans (or Cheerios, grapes, raisins, M&Ms—anything bite-sized and edible). As you have your discussion, girls must eat (or otherwise get rid of) their jelly bean whenever they share their ideas or answer a question. Since girls can’t eat a jelly bean unless they speak up and girls can’t speak up unless they have a jelly bean, this exercise is great for every group—chatty or quiet!
“What we like to do” collage: If your troop is on the crafty side or is full of visual learners, have your girls cut out pictures from magazines or draw pictures that represent the things they’d like to do—a troop vision board, if you will. Use this vision board to facilitate a conversation about what they’d like to do in Girl Scouts this year and return to it whenever they need some inspiration throughout the following months!
Idea or Dream Box: Looking for a more subtle way to collect suggestions over the course of the year? Have your troop decorate a shoe box (or a Girl Scout Cookie box!) to create a troop dream box, where you’ll collect your girls’ ideas. Cut a hole in the top, just big enough for them to slip in a small piece of paper, and leave it in a public space whenever your troop convenes. This way, your girls can drop in their ideas or suggestions whenever they feel inspired (and you can pull from the box whenever you need some inspiration).
Fives: If you already know the broad category of activities that your girls are interested in (such as crafts, field trips, outdoor activities, service projects, awards, etc.), and are just trying to hone in on some specifics, this is the perfect way to do that! To get started, share out your categories somewhere for everyone to see—this could be on a single sheet of paper that you hand out to each girl or a communal piece of poster paper, whatever works for your group. Then, ask everyone to give five ideas for each of the categories that they’ve agreed on. This activity is super versatile because, depending on your troop, it’s something they can do individually or together.
Narrowing Choices and Making Decisions
Allowing the girls to advocate for their choices is another important part of keeping the Girl Scout experience girl-led! Once you’ve complete your brainstorming session, here are some ideas for encouraging your girls to share their opinions and make decisions in a streamlined way:
Checklists or Surveys: These are both great options for girls who are shy to share their opinions or girls who are super opinionated and tend to dominate the decision-making process. Provide a list of possible activities and let them vote on the choices you’ve listed. Simply tally up the votes and you have a winner!
If you want to get super fancy with it, you could even set up the survey so that it’s a rank-choice voting process; this way, you can get a better feel for what girls definitely don’t want to do vs. activities they feel pretty indifferent about. If you’re tech savvy, you might try creating this as a Google Form, but a printed Word Document works just as well!
Sticker Voting: If you want to have your troop vote on ideas, but don’t feel like a survey is the best way to do it, using stickers is a great alternative! To get started, have your girls write all of the ideas on a large piece of paper in a bulleted list format. Then have each girl place a sticker next to the ones she likes. If you really need to narrow down a decision, you might also try giving each girl a specific number of stickers (which is akin to saying, “you can only vote 5 times”).
This idea is especially awesome for older girl troops, since the public record of how many people were interested in each item will allow your girls to plan their year accordingly.
Pep ‘N Flash: Before you start this activity with your troop, you’ll need to write down each idea that your girls came up with on individual index cards. Once it’s time to make some decisions, you’ll pass out the index cards to your girls, making sure each girl has an even (or as even as possible) amount. Next, go around the circle and have each girl read a card. Once the card is read, everyone says “Yea” or “Boo” in response. If there are any Boos at all, the girl will put that index card in the center of the circle. Keep going around the circle until the only cards left are all Yeas.
Now, Soon, Later: For this interactive decision-making activity, you’ll designate 3 different corners of the room to represent “Now” (An activity I’m really excited about and want to do right away!), “Soon” (An activity I’m kind of excited about but could wait to do!), and “Later” (An activity that I feel indifferent about and could definitely wait to do!).
As you read out the list of ideas, which your girls generated during the brainstorming phase, have each troop member run to the corner that corresponds with how she feels about the activity. As you might have guessed, this process works best for deciding on what you want to do with your troop in the upcoming months—and since it’s a non-verbal activity that feels a lot like a fun game, girls are less likely to feel shy about sharing their opinions this way.
In summary: you do you (as long as you let girls lead the way)! Do you have any suggestions for brainstorming or decision-making processes that are great for groups? Let us know in the comments below—we’d love to learn from you!
For more information on how to lead an awesome girl-led troop, check out the Letting Girls Lead section of GSNorCal’s Volunteer Essentials.
Marissa Vessels—Marissa is a lifelong Girl Scout, Gold Awardee, and Marketing Manager at Girl Scout of Northern California. Though she’s originally from Southern California (Yay, Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council!), she moved to the East Bay to attend UC Berkeley and never looked back. One of her favorite things about Girl Scouting in the Bay Area is all the incredible hiking and camping options available to girls who love to explore the outdoors!