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!
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.