Escalante River, Grand Staircase Escalante Nat’l Monument (2006)

If there is one issue all Wilderness Volunteers leaders should concern themselves with when leading a trip, it is how members of the group interact with each other or, put another way, group dynamics. No other issue is of such singular importance when leading WV projects because the effectiveness of a group is directly affected by the way the members of the group respond to each other and to the leader. If my experiences are any indication of group dynamics, I would say that most groups get along well, the participants enjoy each other’s company, and most groups work effectively together to complete the task at hand.

But what makes for good group dynamics? A good portion of the answer is in the fact that WV groups are self-selecting. People are coming together for a common purpose of working in the wilderness on something they feel is worthwhile, so WV participants are likely to be similar in a variety of key components. On backpacking trips, that notion is multiplied because people who backpack are an even more exclusive group and thus even more likely to be of a similar mind-set. Anyone willing to put a heavy pack on her/his back and hike several miles (usually uphill) to do something such as heavy trail maintenance is likely to have much in common with his or her fellow participants. The commonality of purpose and the common experience of backpacking unite people and make them more likely to bond.

Of course, luck plays a role in the cohesion of a group. Other factors involved center on the intensity of the backpacking experience. The difficulty factor, living close together for a week in the backcountry and depending on each other, working side by side each day, eating together, talking about the day’s experiences, sharing ideas, solving problems, and doing all those other things a team must do add to the intensity of the experience and help unite the group in positive ways.

What about car camping? How does the model above work in car camping situations where participants are camped near their cars and often near attractions that participants can easily drive to at the end of a work day? My experience has been that it is more difficult to establish the closeness engendered by backcountry projects even though car camping projects involve many of the same experiences. That is not to say that car camping precludes groups from becoming cohesive or bonding in similar ways. However, I do think there is a difference in the way that different types of projects affect the group and the group dynamics.

What is your experience with group interaction in leading trips? Do you have special techniques for getting groups to bond, to become cohesive units, or do you simply let things develop naturally? What do you do, if anything, when the dynamics of the group are developing in negative ways? What happens when one participant’s negativity affects others? What are your thoughts on group dynamics? Let me hear from you; I’m curious.

The recipe below can be used on either backpacking or car camping projects.

Turkish Rice

Olive oil
4 cups rice + 6 cups water (add water as needed during cooking to keep from sticking)
1 large onion
5 garlic cloves, chopped and divided
1 pkg diced Pomi tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth (use 2 veggie cubes)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon red pepper
1 15 oz. can Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch Italian parsley

Heat oil in large pan. Add onion and cook until tender. Add garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for about ten minutes. Add rice, broth, and simmer (covered) for about 20 minutes. Add garbanzo beans, cumin, and red pepper, blend in to rice mixture and cook for about 5 minutes longer. Add parsley.