What makes a successful Squadron?

I’m curious about how you are running such a successfully squadron, and wonder if there are some of us who can learn from the way you do things, or if it’s your size that makes you successful?

Is the number of staff you have the key? Are they able to specialise and do what they enjoy, knowing that with your numbers any activity will be easily filled?

New thread started to save thread drift - BF

I have a squadron of 60.

We are successful, as we keep the cadets interested in everything we offer. We offer the who range of activities, but I don’t have the staff to run them, so I liaise with squadrons nearby to share the load.

I have a range, so squadrons cone to me to shoot, but I dont have the AT so I latch on to their exped, and offer a staff member as a driver or first aid cover to help out.

Lots of trained and committed staff. You cant run a sqn without the staff. You will need at least 8 as a minimum.
Essentials A good Adj and an old school SWO (closely monitored to keep him on track and ensuring the sqn does not turn in to the QCS).
The rest will come together on its own.

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First thing i did when i took over 8 years ago was go to the schools in the area. We have 4, 2 comprehensives, 1 boys school and 1 girls school. I got the headmasters on side and then got the head of years down to the squadron for a presentation, a chat and tea and biscuits. They had no idea that we existed or what we did. They could see that pointing the school kids our direction would actually save them doing as many after school clubs for as many people. So after 8 months i grew from 15 cadets to 40. We had a good small team of staff who were frustrated not doing anything on a parade night as there were only 10 cadets there on average … you can’t do a lot with 10 cadets, but with 40 there were options and staff were busy. Word gets around and a slow trickle of new cadets turned into a steady flow. Needed to get more staff. Did a parents evening and a leaflet drop around town, doctors surgeries, the hospital, library, barbers shops, supermarkets, takeaways, basically anyone in town who would put a poster in their window. I got wing on side and processed the paperwork for the new staff as a batch, got them all through BASIC and did evenings on squadron with no cadets getting these new staff ( we had 10 in the end ) enthused and educated in what we did. I got the over 18’s down to give a hand on those nights. Frustratingly it took nearly 4 months to process the paperwork, which needs to get sorted as its a joke. So over the following 6 years we grew at a moderate rate, to just shy of 70. We basically out grew the building. We eventually had 2 extensions and a refurb … so building looks great and no need to spend millions on a new build !. We kept up with the schools liaisons giving presentations to the year 8’s in March. Our recruit flight eb and flows from around 20 - 40. We cant delivery everything so we use SME’s from within the wing and they use us for transport and what we are good at, leadership courses, AT, DoE etc etc. Yes the bureaucracy and amount of paperwork is far too much, lack of flying is a shame but we overcome and adapt. I have 3 Adj’s (Each flight has they own Adj including the Recruit flight) We run our own camps using our contacts in the Army. Annual camps we tend to send our newest cadets … there are not enough places. We do all of the big camps, Aerospace, RIAT, D&C but we send our over 14 / 15’s to those … JL’s, IACE for the older cadets. We try and be as self sufficient as we can be. We dont have any local flying or gliding clubs but we do visits to heathrow and gatwick and to their engineering bases so the cadets can see big planes stripped down to basics. Airbus are really good for visits, as are BA. Museums, all three services. Trips to London to the science museum, V&A, Military and RAF at Hendon and Cosford. Raise money for Legion, RAF Ben Fund, RAFCTE (RIAT) and us. Bag pack at easter and christmas at 3 supermarkets (Recruit new cadets and staff at the same time).
Sorry bit of a long reply.


Without a doubt, good staff and a good number of them. Without them you don’t stand a chance unfortunately. You need enough to be able to offer a good training program on a parade night and then you can work with other Squadrons on weekend activities, sharing skills, quals and experience.
Cadets will follow, word of mouth and local visibility will always bring new Cadets through the door. Pity it doesn’t work with staff, I know lots who would volunteer if they were not already volunteering elsewhere.


An effective and supporting OC. It can be very difficult to get stuff done without the top cover.

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I know too many people who volunteer doing things, but they do so fully on their terms, like the things I do outside the Corps, and unlike me aren’t willing (or numb) to accede to the Corps’ demands.
How many staff do things with other organisations/groups? There are 3 of us on the squadron.
Let’s not forget staff and their families, be that children or like I’m beginning to discover ageing parents. who ask for small things in terms of help, which is only payback for what they did for me.

8? Wow. I have to run my unit with only 2 other staff members.

You need an interesting and varied programme. It doesn’t matter if you have 8 or 80 cadets. If they do the same old thing every week they will leave.

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Its a tough one if i was honest. I have 15 staff. 4 of them also do cubs/beavers with their younger children. They like coming to the sqn as its something they like to do for themselves … and once their kids are old enough i no doubt they will join us. A lot of staff from other units in the wing, and outside of the wing, get stressed out because there are only 3 staff and they are trying to meet their volunteering commitment as well as having small children and parents to look after. If i were honest I would make that decision of what’s important to you. Lets be honest if you left the unit today would it or would it not close. If it closed would the cadets go to another unit, would the staff move to another unit. If the answer is yes then thats a good thing, if it’s no then thats a shame but at the end of the day if you are getting stressed over running a unit then maybe go and do something else. From what I am reading regarding the state of the estate there will be squadrons that will be closing anyway. This will release staff to take a breather at a larger unit if they wish to. It will give the cadets the opportunity to transfer to a larger unit where they will be able to take part in a greater variety of activities. Worst case scenario you leave or the unit is closed anyway. Either way you and your staff have to enjoy it as well as the staff, the moment that stops happening is when the difficult decisions have to be made. Our wing 3 years ago had 25 sqns, we now have 20 … by 2020 wil wil end up with probably 16. Staff and cadets have left, staff and cadets have transferred and those who have transferred are actually enjoying the organisation again.

That is really bad losing 5 sqn in three years. Why did they close?

Lack of cadets and they were close to other squadron. on 2 of the squadrons there were more staff than cadets. The OC’s had lost their way, staff morale was low. The cadets transferred, some of the staff left but some transferred … and feel better for it. Cadets are reaping the benefits from being on a bigger squadron and staff are no longer under huge pressure to “sort out the squadron”. They actually turn up as part of a bigger staff team and not expected to run and do everything. It was a tough call. Communities were not impressed. But it all blew over once they saw that the cadets from their community were still in uniform and still getting the experience. Honestly it’s tougher running a small unit compared to a large unit. At smaller units the staff are expected to run the same activities and deliver the same experience as a larger ones. If you look at ACP20 a viable unit is 30 cadets anything smaller is a DF. Its just not been enacted on over years and years and staff have been stretched to the point of breaking. If they had followed the guidance laid down and not been scared of closing unviable units we would be in the position of small units struggling with only 10 - 15 cadets and 3 staff … its just impossible to do these days.

@Winki can you share an example training programme, as you’re clearly engaging the cadets to have an average of 90 per parade evening.

I agree that the staff team are key, getting them to a skilled position, in an area that interest them, with the cadets to deliver too is the solution to a successful squadron, the problem is getting new staff in and to that position, can take over 12 months.

Yep it can take an age to get them in. That is a problem that needs to be addressed and very fast. It should not ate more than 6 weeks tops to get a new staff member in and engaged in Squadron activities. For a member of the public to make that decision to walk in and say hello means that they have thought about it, looked at their lifestyle, found that they have spare time they can give up and taken the plunge. for them to then be sat on the bench for, possibly, 12 months means they walk to another organisation after 3 months. We are hemorrhaging new old staff because we cant get new staff in within a timely manner. It’s a vicious circle that needs to be broken, and quickly

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Biggest problem with staff is the recruitment process itself.It takes way too long.You get the same excuses when you contact Cranwell to chase stuff (lack of staff overburdened etc).Surely it cant be beyond the wisdom of someone in the brass hat division to come up with a better system.I know RC(N) has been working on stuff but progress has been slow.
When I took over my sqn the perceived wisdom was that it would close because of its location it had five active cadets at the time and a lot of either demoralised or non attending staff.
I now have just over 30 cadets and a strong core of experienced cadets who are the backbone.Staff have been wholly replaced (and thats an ongoing process).I found getting out into local schools and being proactive helped a lot.It gets you known.The sqn does all activities and in some cases piggy backs other units regarding AT,We have close links with RBl and RAFA too.In fact the first thing I did when I took command was e mail them to get them on side.

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Sometimes it needs a staff replacement process to change the direction of the squadron from a downward spiral. Good on you for what you’ve done. Having a positive attitude to progress is also a huge help

The problem is as said replacing staff which means getting new staff in via a process that was introduced that doesn’t encourage people.
When they do start what can they do from the start?

I personally feel people should feel like they are volunteering to help on a youth group and not applying for a job, which the process for new people is too much like. However I get a sense that a lot of people in the Corps like it that way as it gives them a sense of power lacking in their lives.


A quite patronising post IMO.
You seem to have landed on your feet and have been riding the crest of the wave and ticking all the bean counters boxes.
I get the impression that you are in a large town / city which has half-way decent transport and no other or few squadron local to you and seem only too keen to see squadrons go, which ignores the community aspect that squadrons engender, which as far as I’m concerned is more important than anything else.
While a big squadron means in theory the chance to do more things, it can also be an empty experience and leave people feeling they are missing things, it also engenders a Lord of the Flies mentality. We had a lad transfer to us from a large squadron and he told one of the staff, how much nicer it was as it wasn’t a constant competition, he said when anything went up you knew who was going to get it as there was a favoured few. We do all the same things and offer the same things and unless there are particular criteria, everyone gets a chance. While he was with us he got more flying those 18 months than he had in the previous 30.

Why is a squadron with fewer than 30 cadets struggling?
If the cadets are achieving where is the problem.
I was on a small squadron as a cadet and did / achieved a lot, the lack of cadets and staff didn’t stop that.
We tend to do things with other squadrons rather than do it ourselves.

I really hope and pray that you are able to get out of the squadron you are on before it starts to decline, which can be a gradual or almost instant process. I also hope that you do not suffer any personal difficulties that means you have to hand over to someone, as that can turn what you like to regard as a successful squadron into a normal squadron, overnight. I hope you do not get the teenage bickering that can break up squadrons from within.
Size isn’t everything … remember War of the Worlds.

Let’s go right back to the question. What defines success? And this is a very subjective thing.

Is it the biggest squadron in the Wing?
Is it the “most active” squadron in the Wing - offering something every weekend?
Is it the squadron who collects the most silverware across the year?
Is it the squadron who hits the benchmark for Lee’s Trophy?
The squadron who ticks all the right boxes on their AFI?
The squadron who offers cadets something to do one night a week so they can escape the normality of their town?
The squadron who does the whole “perfect 10” or “are you on target” or whichever “method” we’re on this year?
The one who parades 95% of their squadron strength throughout the year?
The one with the greatest progression into the Armed Forces?
The one who’s embraced the progressive training syllabus in it’s entirety and already has the squadron 100% badged up?
Is it the squadron who best delivers our objectives - you know the whole “To promote and encourage among young men and women a practical interest in aviation and the Royal Air Force (RAF), training which will be useful in both the services and civilian life and fostering a spirit of adventure?”

Until we know what we’re measuring against - it’s really hard to define success. And even harder to identify what underpins that success.

HOWEVER, with the discussions about our “strategic footprint” abound, I’d like to think Regional Commandants, Wing Commanders and Sector Commanders will be looking a how we define “successful” units - and how closures/mergers happen to good affect without compromising squadrons - or even sectors.

Since @themajor posed the question, I’ve done some reflection on the squadrons I’ve been involved with - and ran when I was OC. Were they successful - and what was I measuring this success against?

I used the measure of the quality and calibre of cadet I churned out at the end of the “cadet life cycle”. I’d like to think that everybody who showed up - and for however long they stayed - left having learned something; having learned some skills, got exposure of the RAF/Aviation and we’d fostered that spirit of adventure in them. I’ve kept in touch with many of the cadets who left during that period - and all reflect positively of that time. What underpinned this? The staff I had - and recruited - to the overall organisation.

I’ve worked on small and large squadrons. The small one had 4 “active” staff and a book of phantom CIs who I never saw or met in the 9 months that I volunteered there. They were 3miles from an RAF station and in a reasonably sized town. Another squadron - now much bigger and better run than in my tenure as OC - the staff team started out as 5 people - but over 5 years, grew to 10 staff - they were the foundation of the Squadron. They were facilitators and enablers - not just for our cadets, but for the Sector and Wing. Again, a reasonable sized town - but miles from any “blue” links. One was, in my view, far more successful than the other.

Both squadrons operated a diverse training program - and saw this as paramount to recruitment and retention of cadets. The small squadron’s staff were close to burn out because they couldn’t keep pace with delivering so much - they were quite insular and didn’t like to think “outside the compound”. The large squadron, despite having a similar sized staff team initially, was further away from burnout (but it remained a threat) - but outsourced more effectively - be it on an intersquadron, sector or Wing thing. Both offered the cadets everything within the ACO spectrum - but one did it more effectively. Where the big squadron couldn’t do it in house, they offered it externally via the extended Corps or through buying in provision.

When I took over as OC of the larger squadron I knew my staff - but continued to encourage, develop and nurture them. I also knew my NCOs - again, encouraging them and making sure they were aware of what was available to them in the wider ACO. I found this helped the NCO team develop - but also encouraged them to get to know their cadets as well - and brought with it a cohesive team ethos.

Investing in the cadets as potential staff members of the future was also really important to me. Most of the staff we have now started off on the squadron when I was TrgOff the first time around, or when I was OC. Recognising this properly (rather than paying lip service to it!) is really important for the future of the Corps. Keeping in touch with them, inviting them along to parades, open days and events keeps their interest; it reminds them of the good times. I’ve said many times that “giving something back” - something many feel as a key motivator & driver in many ex-cadets now staff - is really important - BUT it’s not a time limited offer. They can come back whenever works for them - and they don’t have to “come home” - but can go to any other squadrons or voluntary organization (I’ve got ex-cadets with British Red Cross, the Sea Cadets, the ACF and Scouts - and we’re all still in contact - sharing information and advice about all sorts of stuff as an extended network). A persons family, career, other social stuff can have a way higher priority for them at any given time - I acknowledge that and just let them know that my door - and other doors - are always open to them. I also make sure they know that the CivCom is always open to new members; and friendly ex-cadets can really help lubricate that process! :wink:

Pushing cadets directly into uniformed staff positions isn’t something I’ve ever been keen on. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn away a potential staff member on this basis. I would, however, always encourage a cadet reaching 20 to go an live a bit first. Break the habit then decide whether you can fit cadets back into your life. But I wouldn’t - much to the chagrin of my Sector Commander - actively encourage them from going straight into uniform - time as a CI is time well spent and served for the future of the organization.

So, build your staff team. How? Back in the day we had a heap of 3822A’s in a cupboard of “leavers” which, by rights, should’ve been shredded (but that never found its way to the top of the “to do” pile). Now, with the advent of Bader, check out that list of “discharged” cadets. It’s as good a starting point as any. Invite them in for an evening. Make them a brew. Remind them you exist and start building that alumni network. They might not volunteer for you now - but suddenly you’ve got an audience of people who might do a parade night here or there about their job. They might be willing to lead a STEM active as a visiting lecturer. They might work at B&Q and be in a position to give you a discount on paint for some self help redecoration. But, they might be willing to volunteer. If they don’t, they might know somebody who is. But start that networking process - today. Not tomorrow.

If you get 5 or 6 people interested, then, as Winki says, get Wing on board. Ask them to deliver their next AVIP at your squadron at your volunteers convenience (not WHQs) - and get them all going through the process as a collective - it works way better than ones and twos (hence why most squadron switch to “intake systems”). Joining something together gives a small team ethos and is really useful and getting people developing and motivating each other.

If they lack skills, invest in them, develop and nurture them. If it’s a course they need, book them on it. If they lack MOI knowledge, find a way to give it to them - not necessarily within the RAFAC either; many of our local charities offer the L3 in Education and training for as little as £100. That’s a good investment from the CivCom - and forms an actual credible, tangible and recognized qualification rather than a mickey mouse MOI course. Yes, it lacks the “content specific” training you might develop on an Wing themed course - but the quality and caliber of the trainer will probably be higher! If they want to do shooting, get them in front of the SATT. If they want to do AT, get the WATTO down. They are already a first aider but want to teach it? Bring in the FATTO. Outsource to the specialists wherever you can and don’t try and do it all yourself.

Also, give them something to stay in it for. Find out what their motivator is and make sure you keep that paramount in your mind. Don’t let them lose their way, get waylaid by Wing politicking or any of the other BS that goes with Squadrons these days. If their fresh faced and keen, you need to keep that - the cadets will respond better to an enthusiastic staff member than they will a grumpy old administrator.

And only do Lee’s Trophy once. It’s not worth it as a measure of success - it’s a lot of BS and administration to “prove” you are successful - according to somebody elses benchmark who you never quite get to see or understand - and then you are measured against entirely dissimilar squadrons from across the Country. Sounds like sour grapes? Perhaps - but in the 3 years we did it, we got no feedback on how best we could develop ourselves further - just an acknowledgement that we did “okay”. Maybe we weren’t all that successful afterall!!! I’d rather invest that time, effort and energy directly into my staff and cadets thanks!!

Oh, and never forget Oz’s 100 Top Tips for a Squadron Commander - most of which can be applied to any staff member - be it for personal development, or to support your own OC. If you can even half of them right, you’ll be on your way to being a better OC than most!!!

If you can build a successful, passionate, diverse and competent staff team, then the other bits of a “successful” squadron will fall into place. But it’s not an overnight thing - it’s a long, long road.


[quote=“themajor, post:1, topic:3653, full:true”]

[quote=“Winki, post:1524, topic:1152”]
i happen to be an OC of a sqn with 127 cadets, average parade strength of 90.[/quote]

Not being an easily impressed senior officer looking for selfies with lots of cadets and ignoring large numbers, still only 70% average attendance.
My question would be what’s happened with the rest?
It’s no better than a 30ish squadron parading 20 or so.