View Full Version : Incorporating Less Frequently Available Team Members

01-04-2011, 11:39 PM
One issue that most teams must presumably grapple with is that of team members who only show up for a couple of hours a week during build season- those who aren't present often enough to be given a major project, and who won't necessarily know what needs working on when they are in attendance, but who are still valued members of the team, and are sets of hands during crunch times.

What are strategies people have found helpful in involving team members who can't be there as often or for as long as other members of the team?

01-04-2011, 11:59 PM
I would have them work on side projects that don't take long and are easy to understand. Such as the pit setup, drivers station, T-shirt design, ect.

01-05-2011, 12:09 AM
First, make sure to keep them in the loop. If they don't even have a general idea, it should be their own fault.

Second, when they are there, spend 5-10 minutes to bring them up to speed on what happened since the last time they were there before you get them working.

Then give them something fairly quick to do--T-shirt design, button design, we need some minor X to do Y (say, a fan bracket), or something else of that nature. Shop cleaning does not count unless that's what they want to do or it really really needs doing, in which case it's clean X portion and then we'll see what else there is to do.

Or, the other strategy--have them work remotely, if possible. CAD and programming are best for this, but Chairman's (and other essays) and PR can be done offsite as well. Just make sure that they get their work in on time and interfaced with everyone else's, say via a CVS server or similar substitute.

01-05-2011, 12:33 AM
My mentality is that if they don't want to participate, its their loss. If they don't like the program they would show up everyday. You can't force anyone to like the program. If it is a legitimate excuse like sports or religious activities or something along those lines, go with Eric's advice. Honestly if they don't want to be there, just straight up tell them to not show up at all. I would believe that they are wasting their time going to the meetings. Time is precious; it should never be wasted. Being able to participate in such programs is a privilege not a right.

01-05-2011, 12:41 AM
My mentality is that if they don't want to participate, its their loss. [...]If it is a legitimate excuse like sports or religious activities or something along those lines, go with Eric's advice.
David, I'm assuming that it's not a question of not wanting to participate. But I've been known to skip robotics for Scouts, schoolwork, and other reasons that are all valid. Some people just don't have time to do everything all the time. Trust me, I've learned the hard way to hold back a bit if I don't think I can do it. I gave up soccer club in college because it was just too much to handle alongside of my other activities.

If it's a question of "I don't want to participate", then they probably wouldn't have bothered to show up at all. If they're showing up and not wanting to participate... Well, then you enforce the "don't show up" mentality a little if you have to.

Chris is me
01-05-2011, 01:15 AM
My mentality is that if they don't want to participate, its their loss.

What's the purpose of FIRST again?

01-05-2011, 02:11 AM
What's the purpose of FIRST again?

Spreading the love for STEM; that is why its their loss. They are missing out!:ahh:

01-05-2011, 02:34 AM
Spreading the love for STEM; that is why its their loss. They are missing out!:ahh:
Are you sure about that?

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

FIRST is about Inspiration and Recognition. If a student does not want to be inspired, then yeah, their problem. But it's not just about STEM. Oh, no.

--FRC teams are run like small businesses. I know at least one person majoring in business who spent several years on a team.

--A number of former FIRST students have gone into teaching.

--FRC students can also go into manufacturing very easily, if they've been working with a team that has that capability.

That science and technology knowledge may not seem like it comes in handy for those, but the appreciation of them and the desire to allow those that don't know about how cool they are to find out doesn't go away easily. It's that spark of "I built that!" that can drive someone to do better in their chosen career, STEM or not.

If a student does not want to participate, that's what they're missing out on. If a student is being disruptive in addition to not participating, they'd probably get the boot--but if they changed their behavior, they should be allowed to return.

If a student does not want to participate, and does not show up at all, that's not really our concern. If a student does want to participate, but has schedule conflicts with other activities, then do not deny them the opportunity for that inspiration. Work with them and with as many of the other scheduling factors as you can (parents, sports coaches, etc.) to find a viable solution that allows them to participate. The initial situation, as described, was that of a student who wanted to participate but could not make it more than a little bit per week.

Chris is me
01-05-2011, 02:38 AM
Spreading the love for STEM; that is why its their loss. They are missing out!:ahh:

The team exists to inspire students to pursue science and technology. Giving up on the students who don't naturally want to without making any attempt to engage them changes FIRST from something that changes the culture to just another thing for nerds to do after school.

01-05-2011, 03:55 AM
Now back to the original discussion.

I usually keep short/small jobs that I know my frequent members can do within 15 Minutes or less for the in-frequent members, and tend to give harder/longer jobs to the frequent/every day members.

examples of a short/small job:

-Bumper construction (1 bumper with parts already machined/Drilled)
-Assemble wheels
-Write up the weekly report for our website (If on Saturday) from our frequent documenters notes
-Have them document, take notes, pictures etc. on the days that the in-frequent PR members are in
-Design t-shirts/buttons
-Assemble buttons
-Gear box assembly if you use the regular AM toughboxes
-Clean up if i have absolutely nothing else to give them
-Assist the frequent members (All Jobs)
-Have them work on VEX (Our FRC and VEX team are the same), or our practice bot
-Assist me with field construction during the beginning of the build season

I do not give them jobs such as:

-Chassis construction/assembly
-Chairmans award video / paper
-Machining and welding (Only the frequent members are trained enough to use our mill, lathe, tig-welder etc.)
-Assemble the electrical system of the robot (1 wrong wire could be bad :yikes: )

These are only a few jobs I could think of off the top of my head.

I give them he small jobs to keep them on the team, even though they are tied up with other projects, school or sports.

Never send them home unless your rooms are filled or they are playing around, this could deter them from even coming at all.

Joe G.
01-05-2011, 05:39 AM
On it being their loss:

I'm a firm believer that the people who show no interest in the engineering experience initially; the ones who are dragged to meetings by their friends, attracted by promises of free food at the first meetings, or just join on a whim, are those who have the potential to get the most out of the program. You can't force anybody into FIRST. But you can give them a gentle push. And sometimes, that gentle push can have powerful results.

On the original topic:

I come from a team where, for a number of reasons, intermittent attendance is a HUGE problem. One of the things I've found very helpful is to step up the team's use of Inventor or other CAD software a lot. "Core" members will likely be most involved in the CAD process itself, although others can also work remotely on it. But once it is finished, having printed drawings of most of the robot's parts makes it MUCH easier for people to "jump into" the process. It's much easier to hand someone a piece of paper with a dimensioned drawing on it and say "make this," than hold a conversation like this:

You: Hey, you're not doing anything, could you make the arm bracket
Them: The what?
You: Oh yeah, you weren't here, the prototype broke so we decided we'll need a bracket for extra support.
Them: how is it designed?
You: well......
*5 minutes of failure to get the design fully conveyed by word*
You: Never mind, I'll just do it.

Also, if they can't attend design meetings, but still want to help, encourage them to come up with concepts, and run concepts by them, outside of meeting time. Members who can attend can then "represent" them.

01-05-2011, 07:22 AM
There are 2 types of in-frequents that should be handled differently.

#1. Splitting time with other actitivities, but has a known schedule and is dependable. (Can give you 8 hrs. every Saturday, or can help out Mondays and Wednesdays...)
#2. Undependable. Randomly shows up whenever.

Type #1 can actually be a really great asset if used properly. many examples have been given above for just such assignments. Keep them involved with the bigger picture as well. The key is these folks get quality assignments that require less continuous support (bumpers, pit display,....)

Type #2. You need to convert them to a type #1. Explain to them the importance of knowing when they will be there. On days when they just "show up" give them less desirable assignments. On days when they let you know more than 24 hours in advanced, give them better assignments.

If your team is not able to use a predictable 50 man hours (an 8hrs on Saturday person) effectively, then you need to work on your leadership. If the person in question is a random, that is their fault, but your leadership team has the responsibility to let them know what is expected of them.

Al Skierkiewicz
01-05-2011, 07:45 AM
There is nothing that prevents you from assigning them to help other team members who are more active. Working with others is one of our goals. By doing so, you may inspire enough to get them to spend more time or take on bigger responsibilities next season.

01-05-2011, 07:56 AM
Progress charts work well in these areas. If there is a graphic display in the workshop that shows what has been done, what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who to talk to for details on each sub-project, it helps the members be more self-sufficient and raises overall accountability.

01-05-2011, 08:27 AM
Progress charts work well in these areas. If there is a graphic display in the workshop...

Consider the benefits of taking this one step further -- make status and progress information available to all team members via the internet.
Whether via email blasts or team web page, if your team members can keep current even when they can't be 'in the shop', then they won't have to spend their precious shop time catching up.
One could argue this is important enough to merit assigning some team members to be responsible for the maintenance of such information.

01-05-2011, 08:52 AM
This is the problem I deal with at my school. It can be frustrating. However, out of 200 high school students in the school we have 25 on the team. That's 12.5% of the school. And we don't have a tech type hands on class. AP physics is as close as they get to hands on technology. We do it by being very flexible.

We require at least 30 hours of work during build season to attend a regional.(pretty minimal, but enough toget them to understand FIRST and the game). My goal is to get them hooked. I want them back the next year as opposed to burned out forever. Once we get them hooked, they give more time. I get the kids to sign up for planned times. We will put up a calender and they mark the days that they can attend. That helps us plan.
If they can't make it on the day they planned, they need be responsible and let us know. I also try to let peer pressure take its toll. Everyone writes in their hours worked on a public calendar on the door. If they are putting in too little work, the other kids will let them know about it.
And fewer hours mean that their opinions or desires don't carry as much weight. Kind of a natural consequence of their decision.

Drop ins do more of the button making etc. One of the jobs we have is writing a blog called "Daily Delphi". He summarizes the most active discussions on Chief Delphi and looks for info and tips on build, programming and strategy. He may not get in as often, but he usually has a better "big" picture view of things than the kid who is in there every day. You could actually put a couple of kids on this. Other kids can plan the scouting work. Websites can be worked on at home as well as posters etc. We are lucky to have a laptop program where everyone is supplied with the complete Adobe Suite so they can work at home. We want them there even if it is only for an hour per day. Have those kids act as journalist and interview the builders and engineers about the robot. Then they can write up a flier to be passed out the regional. Have a blogger. They can come and talk to the builders and find out what has been going on. Think of all the other aspects to a business. Could they run a publicity campaign at the school about the team? Handle the budget? Seek more funding? Those activities can add an extra dimension to your program. If they are standing around we grab them up as extra hands. Hold this, put this there, go find that, research this.

Obviously it would be nice to have 20 completely dedicated members whose only activity was Robotics, but our small school population couldn't support it. We would probably win more, but my goal is for them to end up in the top 50-25%. We have done very well so far. Usually we end up in the being picked for the final rounds and last year we came out 2nd in Oklahoma and won the Motorola Quality Award. We won Engineering Inspiration a few years ago.

I think getting more kids into STEM careers is important, but I also think that creating people who support STEM is almost more important. Face it, many people don't have the aptitude for engineering. However, we are also educating the future politicians, CEO's and journalists that might be making decisions or writing about science and technology. I try to lure them into contact with the team. Everyone may not be putting in 200 hours, but if I can leave them with the idea that engineers and scientists are fun, creative and interesting as opposed to thinking of us as some sort of weird clueless alien race I will have improved the world.

01-05-2011, 02:35 PM
We have loads of these non-available people and for the most part we really love them.
Drama takes a lot of people at our school and there is always a show that is being rehearsed for during the build.

For several years I didn't come to many meetings: usually I had drama or some other large commitment. However I was able to scout at regionals [was the only scout for several years]. Last year I was a lot more involved and actually learned how to do some mechanical stuff. I also took care of Chairman's, both the essay and video. This year I've totally cleared out my schedule to allow for robotics and I'm doing all the odd jobs like organization, PR, fundraising, as well as being lead programmer [through necessity]. So yes, over-scheduled kids can later go on to be really dedicated to robotics.

I'd say Chairman's Award is a good project for kids who really want to be involved, but can't make it to all the meetings.

Scouting is also a good job [depends on the student, I'd put the outgoing enthused kids on scouting...] but make sure they know a lot about the final design of your robot, and are very familiar with the game. My first year I was recruited to be the [one and only] scout, right at the end of build, and I was a bit nonplussed when I got to competition and people were asking me what sort of drive-train our robot had and I really didn't know....heh.

Last year we had a senior girl on the team who was barely ever able to come to meetings, but she wound up being a huge help to us: helped me with Chairman's and scouted with me at competition. I had a far more enjoyable and relaxed experience at competition knowing I wasn't the only one doing it. The best way she was able to help was just in the last few days of the season.

It would be really helpful if there is one student or mentor on the team who attends all the meetings and can send out email updates after important meetings, recapping what was accomplished/what needs to happen and so on.

It really depends on the student though, do they really want to be involved with the team: if they do, they'll often want to help any way they can and will be a huge benefit to you.

Andrew Schreiber
01-05-2011, 03:21 PM
My mentality is that if they don't want to participate, its their loss. If they don't like the program they would show up everyday. You can't force anyone to like the program. If it is a legitimate excuse like sports or religious activities or something along those lines, go with Eric's advice. Honestly if they don't want to be there, just straight up tell them to not show up at all. I would believe that they are wasting their time going to the meetings. Time is precious; it should never be wasted. Being able to participate in such programs is a privilege not a right.

Sometimes it isn't a question of wanting to be there but a question of being able to get there. I don't know what the economic situation for your team is but around me we have parents who can't afford the gas to get their students to the meetings but once or twice a week. Should I take that out on the students?

The only thing we ask our students is to show up when they say they will, if that is "I can only be here Monday from 4-5" then that is when they are there. Interestingly, this is the same philosophy we use for mentors.

Make sure your consistent students are all up to speed on what is going on and have them work with the less consistent students. Perhaps consider a weekly newsletter (resources permitting) that can be sent to mentors/students/sponsors via the magic of the internets.

Chris Hibner
01-05-2011, 08:36 PM
Ken Patton could provide a great response to this. I hope he chimes in.

There were a handful of years on team 65 when I could only show up one or two days a week due to my job at the time and the fact that I was literally hundreds of miles away for days (or sometime weeks) on end. He did a good job of keeping me involved and having me participate in whatever way I could.

Many of these people can provide great insight. We had someone on our team last year that could only show up one day per week. He was valuable in many ways. One big way is that he could provide a grounded opinion on things that we were maybe too involved to see.

It's kind of like the job of a good producer for a great band recording an album. My favorite band of all time is one of the most legendary bands in all of music. They have about 20 studio albums, all of which sold millions of copies. They could have self-produced their own albums for years now if they wanted to, but they refuse to do it. They feel that they can get too attached to their own ideas that they can't tell if it's good or a hair-brained idea. Therefore, they always hire a producer that's not afraid to share a real opinion.

Sometimes these people that can't devote a lot of time are great as "producers" - they can armchair quarterback the ideas and provide some great feedback that the people that are real close to the idea can't quite see for themselves.

Anyway, usually any help is good help. Be open and take what they can give you.

01-08-2011, 08:02 PM
Thank you all very much for your input. Our issue comes from students who have other commitments, not those who aren't motivated to participate. We also have the problem of show rehearsals running concurrently with build season. We're trying to set up a system so that to-be-completed tasks can be put up on a place such as the forums of the team website, so students can post about their progress on their tasks, see what there is to do, and get a sense of what's been going on if they haven't been to meetings in a bit. Does anyone have any recommendations for the format of such a system?