A guide to high-functioning teams, what do you think?

Hi everyone,

After my first year in FRC, I have written up my thoughts so far on what it takes to be a world class team. I have attached the word document. What do you think? What would you add? What would you change? Please keep in mind that I would like to keep it a somewhat reasonable length.

EDIT: after being informed of my erm unfortunate word choice, I would greatly appreciate if a mod would change the title.



How to run a FIRST team.doc (39 KB)

How to run a FIRST team.doc (39 KB)

You mentioned “high-functioning”, I immediately thought of this. Maybe that’s not quite the most useful descriptor for the phenomenon you’re interested in?

If this isn’t a problem, we’ll now rejoin your regularly scheduled thread, already in progress…

(If you haven’t already seen Simbotics’ recommendations on this topic, here, have a look.)

There is no one way to run a FIRST Robotics Competition team.
Also FIRST is not the same as FRC.
Lingo such as “best practices” may be more appropriate.

Good start. Great work for only 1 season in! Thoughts:

Team Organization

  • The “3 large time commitment” mentors need not be broken down as such. Many teams have design/mechanical & NEM splits, others are run by committee.
  • If by “high functioning” you mean award-competitive, those “specialized mentors” (CAD and programming come to mind) as likely very, very, very busy. Often they’re not separate from the 2-5 design engineers, either. You’ll also see many lead CAD engineers that serve as lead mentors overall.
  • 4 student leads and 20 students? More is ok too.
  • Essentially, team layout is very flexible. There’s no right way (for any of this)
  • Parents = epic fundraisers
  • Have NEMs.
  • Have NEMs.
  • What? oh yeah, have NEMS.


  • Terminology note: AutoCAD is a specific CAD program made by Autodesk. Many teams nowadays use Inventor, SolidWorks, ProE, etc CAD software instead.
  • Some teams swear by TIG welding. We MIG, not convinced it’s necessarily best though.
  • Mills rock.
  • Don’t see many 1" steel tube robots. (weight limit mostly) Al Angle & U-channel are perennial. Polycarb too. Feel free to get creative.


  • Something else to do in May-December: check out off-seasons! And make veteran friends.
  • Pre-season task: plan and test
    how you’re going to manage CAD & programming version control and integration.
  • Pre-season task: figure out what your fabrication capabilities (equipment & experience) are. While 2 weeks of design & 2 weeks of testing is certainly advantageous if you can afford it, it’ll make pretty big problems if you can’t. Unfortunately, there aren’t many Rookies that can.
  • If you can, I’d go to a local kickoff rather than host the webcast yourself. (That friend-making thing again) Many kickoffs also have helpful workshops as well.


  • Strategy, 2 words: game simulation
  • Design, 2 words: iterative prototyping. (alternatively: Team 148)
  • There are some awesome design process presentations out there: examples.
  • On that note, set design specs. Have margins.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of process–in anything.
  • Holy-fast-CADing, Batman. Very
    often a bigger job than a few days in Week 2. Jeez, I’m going to have nightmares about that one. It does depend on your design team and what you expect out of your CAD though.
  • Teams have very different philosophies on this, but I’ll give you mine: try a Week 1 (or 2) event. Yes, field errors and rule changes are difficult, but everyone’s on the same level thereabouts. More importantly, you’ve got quite some time to improve between then and say, a Week 5.
  • Clean up in May? But how will I go to IRI? 1(ish) word: off-seasons.


I’ll look at the links you presented

not a biggie but i think alu TIG is more versatile than MIG, IMHO.

A true Aluminum MIG welder is far easier to master than TIG. In any case, welding aluminum is nothing like welding steel, so the statement “Someone who knows how to weld aluminum” is a good one. (In all fairness, we don’t use welding much, so this is not a requirement)

The design part is far more important than the paper makes it out to be. You can have a mediocre design perfectly executed, it’ll probably not be competitive, while an excellent design executed mediocre-ly(!) can win a regional. Rather than “good at Design” I’d state “good at the engineering design process”.

Mentors are the key to excellent teams. The average student is just as capable as the rare excellent student, if someone shows them how & what they need to do. A few excellent mentors can teach average students excellent skills. And not just in fabrication, but in how to live.

All in all a very good start, keep at it.

What is high function? At NJ this year our robot started out bad but with major work was a lot better by the end. Tho two speed transmissions that studennts desined and built worled great. All the changes were worked out by the red headed students. Both mentors stayed out of the pit and most of the time we in the stands or working the event. At Seattle the robot was better but still two mentors somewhere else. The robot was still improved during the event. We teach them how to design ando build projects during the year. Also we teach project management. It is their robot. I can give advice if they ask but I cannot design. Unless they get stuck we try not to interfere with this project. It is how the students develop that makes our team high function and not the robot. A robot that fails gives plenty of lessons to grow from.

Each team,is different and must fine what works best for themselves. No way is the best all.

I have been through what you just went through. I just finished my second year as head coach. Our team had “existed” for three years prior, but there was absolutely no structure or legacy or even members held-over from previous years, so I essentially started a new team. One addition to your document would be a section on School administration/mentor volunteer interaction. Ironing out the details of the expectations and responsibilities of the school turns out to be more important that anyone can imagine, especially when there is a change in administration (“yo, right here”). Check out the “MOU” for mentor-school “contract.” It’s available on the FRC site under “resources.” I’d link it, but I realized I have to run right now…

Just a few things… under materials you have listed aluminum and steel… but baltic birch plywood, and a number of other composite materials can, when used wisely, offer outstanding performance.

Secondly, if your goal is to qualify for the Championships, you might want to consider where you compete.

Being in Calgary… well… you’re kind of hosed as far as transportation goes. You’ve got to fly to your competition no matter what. But since you’re flying anyway… you have to ask youself whether you want to compete against 1114 and 2056 and the southern Ontario crew, or do you want to compete at an event where the winning teams change from year to year?

Don’t get me wrong… the GTR is a great regional, and if you want to be a great team you have to be able to beat the great teams. GTR is the place to do that. But if you want to qualify for worlds… well… you don’t always have to beat the GREAT teams to do that. You’ve structured your document predicated on qualifying for the championships being a definition of success and if that is your goal then you have to take regional selection in to account.

Finally, you are working on the assumption that the best way to qualify for the championships is by winning an event. Given the fertile territory that you occupy, with nary another FRC team for 1,000 km or more, you should be able to put together a pretty impressive Chairmans/Engineering Inspiration bid.

In many ways, Chairmans and Engineering Inspiration are the most reliable way to qualify for the Championships as they are based solely upon your hard work and community involvement throughout the year. Freak breakdowns don’t derail your Chairman’s bid.

Don’t get me wrong… I didn’t say they were the easiest way to qualify… quite the contrary. They are the hardest, but most reliable way to qualify.