When it comes to survival, our basic individual mission is to remain above room temperature and stay effective. However, you’ll need the benefits from building relationships to be the most effective in survival. Being part of a group helps us to stay fed, sheltered, and safe.
When writing The Survival Group Handbook, I discovered a concept called the independence conflict. The independence conflict occurs when preppers don’t want to depend on the government or anyone else in hard times but then want to form a group to do just that. So how does a person decide to trade their individual independence for the security of a group? When writing about the benefits of forming a group for survival, I continually had to reconcile why it was such a good idea to be in a group.
The issue of remaining independent has been a challenge for groups everywhere. Why should I join a group and be subject to someone else making decisions for my family? I still hold that there are great benefits to grouping together. One such benefit is to accomplish tasks that would be too difficult, if not impossible, for any individual to successfully complete alone. Too much individualism can be dangerous, especially in survival. Creeping narcissism and selfish indifference to the needs of others can cause us as self-proclaimed survivors to be isolated. Such blind spots in our thinking can have disastrous effects.
With TV shows and the casual reading of endless internet blogs, people tend to overestimate their survival skills. Sometimes those who are only semi-prepared aren’t in a better position than the unprepared masses. We are in danger of situating ourselves at the precipice of total failure if actually presented a true survival situation.
So the question becomes, can we be individuals in a survival group? I believe the answer is yes. How is this possible? As individuals we can prevent groupthink by bringing our different experiences and skills to a group. We can share innovations by making improvements on what works and what doesn’t from our own individual experiences. Just as each person is different from one another, not every group is the same.
One of the benefits of groups is that we can determine our level of participation, our physical distance from each other, our beliefs, ideals, and methods. To be an effective group we should find a way to integrate our methods but it’s a rare instance in any society where everyone is in total sync all the time. This should give us confidence that there is a way to make it work no matter how hard things get. Finally, at the end of the day, we all know that there is a benefit to numbers.
The ugly fact is there are some challenges that cannot be solved by going it alone. To truly thrive we need the ability to scale our efforts, overcome personal biases, and rise as one to meet the big challenges. This level of cooperation will require more than lip service. We will need to align ourselves with those chosen to be a part of our group. We’ll need to be in sync with our vision, personalities, and skills to align effectively. As a survival team we need to identify our strengths and weaknesses.
Great teams find people who complement the existing skill sets and fill the positions of weakness. This is where filling the roles of the group comes in. Everyone knows the basic roles for survival such as the tactical guy or the gardener but what about the mediator, the negotiator, the logistics person? These are all important roles of a group and the trick is filling them with the right people. The survival group is a complex organization made up of volunteers with various motivations. As such, the key positions within the group should be chosen with care. Group business should be conducted with the best interests of all members in mind.
We need to backup a few steps to talk about decision making and organization before we can throw warm bodies at the problem. If we aren’t organized, there will be all kinds of group dysfunction. Regardless of total size the following thoughts should be implemented in to the group in some fashion.
For the average survival group, I recommend a council based leadership group with a chairperson/facilitator to manage strategic decisions and policy. Committees or work groups dedicated to specific tasks should manage daily operations. This arrangement reduces and distributes the common ground operations to those who are best qualified or suited to those tasks while reducing bureaucracy. Once councils have been established, they designate committees or work groups of core importance. These committees should report regularly on the status of their work and on how the committee is functioning.
The leader must make sure that everyone involved is completely clear about their roles and responsibilities as related to the task at hand. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is! This topic is so important that it can literally be a matter of life and death. How many times in your daily life have you run into conflict because 1) you were reprimanded, or 2) you reprimanded another because something wasn’t done or not done right?
This is not uncommon, and even if it’s not a life or death situation there can be consequences that affect everyone in the group. For example, if you were finally able to get your teenager to do laundry but they didn’t separate the light and dark colored clothes so there was damaged clothes and angry family members. Not a capital offense but still a waste of money. On the other hand, if a gate guard didn’t count every member of a patrol coming back in from the field and an extra person walked into the perimeter. If they began shooting, a simple lack of communication has now become deadly. This has happened more often than we care to think about.
When assigning a task, make sure to use reflective listening and get feedback after you explain. This will help make sure everyone is crystal clear on what they are about to do and what the intended final result should be. If the objective includes a sequence of tasks, finish up the directions with a plain language description of what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.
In the military this concept is the last part of an Operations Order called the commander’s intent. All this does is describe what we’re trying to accomplish in plain and simple English. Take a few minutes to ask each member what his or her role is then make them vocalize it. You’ll get a pretty good impression if they were paying attention and understand what is expected of them.
3 Things That Happen When Roles Are Unclear:
- Gaps. If no one was specifically assigned to a certain task, there will be a gap in performance. Whether or not anyone notices the gap, no one will step forward to do anything because it wasn’t their job. This will lead to blaming each other because someone should have just done it or at least said something. The leader may also be criticized for not properly assigning the task. This can happen when the person assigning the task is a poor leader or makes assumptions that everyone just knows what to do.
- Overlapping responsibilities. If multiple people think they are responsible for completing the same task, there may be a duplication of efforts which wastes time and resources. Also, one person may do the task differently than the other causing hostility when he or she feels the other performed the task incorrectly. Another problem comes when a member feels undermined or as if they are considered incompetent. A simple assignment of responsibility has now become a personnel conflict. This could lead to tension, unhappiness, and a break in group dynamics.
- Frustration among group members. In the first example, a task wasn’t properly assigned so a member jumps in to take responsibility. Then they get in trouble as because they’re needed in another area. Another example, everyone knew a task needed to be done but no one was doing anything about it. In either case, someone has trespassed on the responsibility of another or there’s been a complete lack of initiative among the responsible members.
Roles and responsibilities are a two way street between leaders and subordinates. An effective leader will strive to completely understand what is needed to be done and what is needed to get it done. Communicate with your people, gather information, ask for feedback in areas you’re not clear on. Make sure to clearly identify what you want someone to do.
Never ever assume that someone can read your mind or should have known something. Don’t worry if the team is coming together at a snail’s pace as they take a long time to develop and form deep trusting bonds. These things don’t happen automatically, they take time and practice. Here are the key areas to consider when building your survival group.
Core Committees/Work Groups:
- Food inventories
- Creating surplus
- Food preservation
- Drinking water management and storage
- Organizing members for group/community food projects and events
- Building and maintaining shelters, structures, and containments
- Maintenance of equipment
- Special projects
- Design and construction of infrastructure
- Energy production
- Support chief medical officer or community medical personnel in conducting health operations
- Emergency medical response
- Health monitoring
- Contagious disease support
- Support tactical operations
- Sanitation design and monitoring
- Home and elderly care
- Fitness programs
- Nutrition classes
- Medical prevention programs
- Medical training of members
- All security operations
- Access control
- Perimeter monitoring
- Threat monitoring and assessment
- Tactical operations
- Background checks
- Quick reaction force
- Protection of assets
- Convoy planning and security
- Training of members in security and self defense
- Planning, constructing, and maintaining the Commo net
- Establish and maintain contact with key stations for information gathering and early warning of crisis events
- Staff the warning point/command area for all group Commo operations
- Work to protect all communication and electronic hardware from energy pulses
- Survey community to establish dependable communications to and between each hamlet
- Maintenance and inventory of various radio systems, towers, and antennas
- Liaison with security in all communications and data requirements
- Recommending group initiatives to the council, including but not limited to the following areas:
- Physical site layout
- Nutrition needs and storage
- Water management
- Land management
- Strategic use of various resources
- Group events
- Research to support council policies
- Development of various contingency and emergency plans
Training and Education
- Scheduling all training classes and exercises
- Coordination of subject matter experts
- Training logistics, materials, and locations
- Coordination of meals and lodging as needed
- Training safety and provision of medical support
- Management of child education, daycare, and learning spaces
- Coordination and representation of teachers and childcare givers
- New member investigation committee
- Vetting of new candidates
- New member sponsors
- Properly establishing new members into the group
- Probation reviews
- Promotion of group to the community (if desired)
- Tracking and care of group finances
- Bill payment
- Budget preparation
- Management of any member dues or payments
- Coordinating work schedules
- Group needs and event staffing
- Point of contact for all labor needs and offers
- Mediate between members
- Serve as liaison in case of member tension
- Elevate conflicts to council as needed
- Make recommendations on expulsion
- Clarify rules and bylaws to members
- Crosses over to conflict negotiator between groups
This isn’t an exhaustive list but a representation of the core committees that we recommend for group success. This is if the group grows beyond more than a few families. It will become obvious when some of these tasks become needed. This list can also be used as a troubleshooting guide and as information to support growth goals of a group.
Overlooked Skill Sets
Below are some additional overlooked skill sets that all successful groups should include if possible:
Mechanics and Mechanically Inclined Personnel
There will always be a problem with something that requires a repair or MacGyver type of solution. Never underestimate the person whose mind understands how things work. The tinkerer will save the bacon many times over. Sometimes they aren’t social butterflies but leave them to their work and you will see great things.
A good mechanic has the skills needed to get things rolling and engines working. This will be handy when dropping the old car off for a repair isn’t an option any longer. Keep in mind that dealership mechanics have relied on computers quite heavily. You may need the hobbyist or the older guy who can tell what’s wrong with an engine by listening to it and not by plugging it into a computer.
Child and Elderly Care
Most groups will have children or perhaps elderly members that will need care daily. The reason for dedicating a role to this is so that parents can free up time to work on other things throughout the day. When children are old enough to hold responsibilities, they should participate in group duties when not learning skills or taking part in education sessions.
Teachers bring a unique benefit to a group. In addition to teaching, they usually have skills and experience in dealing with difficult people. They may be useful if there’s a need for a voice of reason or mediator between group members. Teachers also know how to approach training from an organized perspective. They can layout a lesson plan that should adapt to any topic if you provide them the information.
These are the people that you hand a shopping list to and somehow they bring things home. They are a special breed of people with initiative and the thrill of the hunt. They usually work with the tinkerers and understand the multiple uses of things. These types will probably need to be told where to not go because nothing is off limits when they are on the hunt. This would be important should they choose to take the wrong stuff, like supplies from military units or militia groups. If they get caught it could end badly for everyone else. Army Scouts are exceptionally good at this, as are some teenagers.
Clothing will begin to fall apart if the survival situation lasts more than a few months. This is especially true in damp or swampy environments. Sewing skills will keep the troops clothed and teach those that missed out on home ec class how to handle a needle and thread.
There will be a need for tools. Since it’s unlikely the hardware store is an option, you may need to make your own tools. Engineers do have a use in the aftermath, even if there are no computers or CAD programs for them to use. One thing to consider is that engineers, like some military types, tend to have a rigid way of thinking. It’s hard to achieve perfection in bad conditions and that could throw them for a loop. They will be more useful down the line when making calculations and building things.
Gunsmiths/Experts in Ammo Reloads
The gunsmith will be able to repair and improve firearms. This may be valuable when people are carrying them around every day. The Reloader may have a spot in the group if there are tools and supplies to support his work. If ammo is scarce the Reloader can be a valuable asset.
We’ve begun to see a major drift away from the collective in many areas of our lives. Most visually, we see this in geopolitics with the disruption and decay of world governments, political parties, and religion. People are choosing to question the old ways, the party lines, and those who represent us. The days of working for one company, getting a gold watch and retiring comfortably are long gone. It isn’t uncommon to hold multiple careers in different fields these days. The spirit of entrepreneurship has rescued many of us from the failings of corporate uncertainty. The struggle between individuals and groups is seen everyday.
The big takeaway from all of this is that every group operates most effectively when teams are well considered, well trained, and well cared for. They will bond as a cohesive unit if everyone is treated as a valued member and provided with opportunities to be successful within the group. That is of course only true if you were careful of those invited to join in the first place.