What would your Scout Troop look like without a manual, by-laws or a reasonable facsimile thereof?
Would anybody notice?
B.S.A. literature, to my knowledge, does not mention such documents so one wonders where they came from?
In my case as a young Scoutmaster I encountered the usual litany of problems and disappointments. I hit upon the idea of legislating – I’d just write down the rules and things would be clear, my Scouts, their parents and my fellow leaders would all fall in line once they read my pronunciations. Once I had legislated a complex code into existence I then had to appoint myself to the judiciary in order to interpret and apply the law.
For some reason my Scouts were underwhelmed with my impression of the Magna Carta. They responded by paying very little attention to it. The sole satisfaction of having created the rules was referring to them whenever a problem arose. Soon after a problem arose so did compelling reasons why the rules, as I had written them, should not apply. After some time the rule book just faded from memory.
It took some years to realize that Scouting has had 100 years of experience and I have a great deal less. As resolutions to common difficulties were found they became a part of the Scoutmaster’s handbook, the Troop Committee Guide and other works. Most of these answers are not specific, closely defined solutions but broader concepts that lead to specific solutions.
For instance what is the disciplinary policy of your Troop? Some Troop policy manuals have several pages on the subject listing all of the prohibitions with a scaled matrix of corresponding actions taken against malefactors. I suggest that the Scout Oath and Law are really all that one needs as a basis for discipline. If someone steps outside these lines they are most likely going to have a talk with the Scoutmaster. Every Scout will be treated slightly differently because every Scout is slightly different. 99% of Scouts will never have a need for any disciplinary action. The 1% that will act up will not be deterred from doing so by a policy manual.
What is more likely is that parents will argue with each other over one thing or another. They will demand that the Troop stick to the policy manual exactly as they interpret it and then the fun really begins. A policy manual does not immunize a Troop against troublesome parents and may actually make them more susceptible to real problems.
These manuals are sometimes the work of an overcharged Troop Committee who wants to direct instead of support the efforts of the Patrol leader’s Council and the Scoutmaster. An inactive or ineffective Scoutmaster is not going to become an engaged talented leader because the Troop Policy manual requires it. Better that the Chartered Organization Representative and the Troop Committee Chair find another Scoutmaster.
There will be some things about the workings of the Troop that Scouts and Parents need to know that they cannot find in the Scout Handbook. Most of this can be communicated on one side or an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper.
Our failures as Scoutmasters often start when we depart from the simplicity and directness of the program. Our best defense is taking advantage of training and staying focused on the goals of Scouting.