Any advice on increasing team work ethic?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my team and many of our members and mentors have stayed up till like 3 am at our workshop just to get stuff done. But despite meeting every day (on top of Saturdays) I feel like we waste too much time. Every time a deadline is set and we miss it the general consensus that students have is “Oh lets just push it up”. We are behind schedule for the off season just because some students didn’t feel like doing their tasks. Is there any way to have more productive team hours without throwing out all the fun?


aaaah fun stuff.

So you gotta tread carefully. People’s feelings get hurt pretty easily if you start to imply they’re just being lazy. Keep in mind it is indeed a volunteer organization, and people all will have different notions of what they signed up for.

I tend to say approach it holistically. Start the year by setting expectations - tell folks up front the hours you expect them to put in, and what good productivity looks like while they’re present.

Find, for your team, what makes sense to plan up front in terms of schedule. You definitely need at least one deadline - the competition. However, how many additional deadlines you put in is an art to figuring out what is useful and motivating, versus what will just be “nose” and ultimately reworked. Expect to fail at this many times and have to re-adjust.

When deadlines are missed, ideally, have someone within leadership who is tasked with doing a bit of investigation. Again it’s gotta be done carefully - it’s not an inquisition or trying to accuse anyone. The goal is to understand why the deadline was missed. Maybe something wasn’t communicated right. Maybe someone was assigned a task, but they were stuck on a major roadblock and needed help (and didn’t get it). Maybe a task was assigned to someone who had too many other tasks. In any case… don’t expect to always get it right, but try to document why it went wrong, and use that to improve for next time.

These are concrete action items, but they build up to evolving team culture with a set of attitudes that focus on aggressive but realistic task assignment and expectations.


If I could ask or a little more information:
When you say you are meeting every day how long are these meetings and when are they?
You say you are behind schedule for the offseason what exactly is being done that is behind schedule?
How many people are on the team (both students and mentors) and how much experience in FIRST is present in each group (ie how many rookies, 2nd years etc)?


I’d like to know the same things as MARS_James but even not knowing, I think having meetings every day is part of the root problem. I struggled similarly about a decade ago and when I asked other teams how they were so productive, I was surprised that they met less often and for shorter periods of time than my team did. If every day is robot day then no day is robot day.


This is direct but needs to be said. FRC teams should not be at their workshop this late.

We operate large robots, power tools, heavy machinery, etc, none of which should be done this late.

This is also a youth program, often at schools, where behavior like this risks other liabilities and complications.

Citrus policy for the latest the shop will be open is 10pm. A few driver practice sessions got special permission to flex to 11pm last season, but even those are being cut back for the coming year.



Hours != Productivity

As I got older I came to understand that increasing productivity is all about knowing what to do and being interested in doing it.

Set the expectations clearly.


I find that people tend to work harder and get more done when they have limited time to do it in. How many of us have put off a school project for weeks, only to then cram it in and finish it at the last minute?

To create a sense of urgency requires planning. You need to know what needs to get done and how much time is left to do it in, and then create a schedule. If there’s a minimum of padding in the schedule, then it becomes immediately apparent that delays aren’t going to work. And if people don’t get it, then when you don’t hit a milestone, you have to be willing to stand up and say “In order to get things done, we have to cut X functionality from the robot”. It’s a harsh lesson, but it makes it clear that the milestones are there for a reason, than we really do have a lot of work to do, and that you aren’t going to just extend hours to get everything done because they goofed off in the beginning of the season.

That covers the time aspect of things. But perhaps more important is the team aspect. Everyone has to be rowing the boat in the same direction in order to go anywhere. Do you have a mission statement? Do you have core values? If not, then I think you’ll find that creating (or updating if needed!) those will help bring the team together. It’ll tell everyone on the team what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. During the off-season, we talk about them as a team at every meeting. It doesn’t take long, just 5 minutes. Everyone turns to face away from the wall where we have them posted (Because having them up on the wall where everyone can see them every time they’re in the space is good!), and the captains call on individuals with one question each - what’s the mission statement, what does each of the 3 parts of the mission statement mean, name one of the core values, what does X core value mean to you, how have you used Y core value this week, etc. Students who can answer those questions are going to be successful at meetings, all they need too be successful is right there listed out for them!


While there is no strict requirement to come on any specific day, the workshop is open every day from 3-6 pm.
For the offseason its really just that the students aren’t taking initiative, I know that they love robotics and they do dedicated a lot of time to it but they aren’t as consistent as one would hope.
We have about 5 active mentors (former students) with few years of experience and roughly 10 active students (all 2nd years in this year). The rest (10 ish people) are rookies who need to be trained

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Why do you think that is? You would think that with more opportunities to work on the robot you would get more done.

I can see where you’re coming from, we did not get a lot done during those days. But it was really a thing of desperation as the regional was getting closer. I just wanted to know what we can do to avoid having to resort to things like this.

You might think having more hours means more productivity but you have to remember that the kids and mentors can and will get burned out from endless work. So make some time for a little brain break activity, like for the 2022 season we had the field built so we just did a little game of knockout with the hub. Just a little 15 minute break works well.


Here is an interesting publication on the phenomenon. Teams become more productive when their hours are shorter | CEPR

Personally I think that having a strict limit on time means our time together is more focused. Our team motto is “Robotics is a Fourth Place Activity”, behind health, school, and responsibilities, and it doesn’t make sense to contradict that by meeting too often or for too long.


It’s also worth saying here that it’s perfectly okay for a team to not perform well at competitions. Life is much bigger than high school robotics, and working until 3:00 AM means something is off.


I’m gonna give you a secret formula that’ll fix your productivity, work ethic, and competitive issues all at once.

Too many teams work backwards: They determine what robot they want to build, set a schedule based off of what it takes to build it, give themselves 0 tolerance for error, and then adjust that schedule (often by increasing it) to get the project done.

You should do the opposite. Start with your meeting schedule. What is sustainable for your team, and does not burn out the students and mentors? You say you meet every day - try meeting 3 days a week, maybe 4 max. Meet for 2-4 hours max on weekdays, you can go longer on Friday evenings and weekends. Now that you have a schedule, determine what you can reasonably and confidently get done in that amount of time. Make sure to build in practice, tuning, and iteration time. Is this less than you’d want? Shame, but that’s what you’re realistically capable of right now, and that’s okay. What you’re capable of will grow in time, but you have to start somewhere.

You now have a schedule that’s sustainable, you have a realistic project scope that you know you can execute on, and come competition season, you will find that you don’t need to put in the long nights and unplanned hours close to the competition to get things done, because your robot will already be finished, you’ll be practicing, and when you show up to the competition, everything will just work. And guess what? You’ll likely perform better on the field with this lower-scoped robot that you’ve finished, tuned, and practiced with while meeting 3-4 days a week than you would with a robot that required you to be in the shop every day, for long hours at a time, that you still haven’t finished before the competition, and have little to no practice on.


Here’s a post I made in that other thread with similar articles. They’re worth a read.


Honestly this type of approach is probably the right way, but all of the team members are accustomed to being able to drop by whenever. Do you have any tips on how we can get them to follow this change? Well, it definitely CAN be done in terms of closing it off certain days, but I mean like getting the students to accept this.

Yeah I think getting the general theme here which is quality over quantity. I will definitely bring this up to the team because it should be addressed. On that note, what do you (or other teams) use to draft up schedules? I’m trying to get the students into trello for workflow management but I’ve only seen one kid actively use it.

Yes, do a cultural reset. If you are a lead mentor (I’m assuming you are from these posts), create a plan, make an announcement, and then follow through. I can point to dozens of moments in my tenure here when I realized something was wrong with how we ran the team, decided to change it, and then just did it. This is everything from time changes to how we put away our tools to how we speak to each other.


This could just be me but, Working all the time doesnt make for a better work experience, these are high school kids and they need excitement, I mean I myself a High school student who loves FRC so much that I wouldnt get bored of working during build season or offseason on projects. But something common ive seen alot of the time is giving time for fun activities, heres a great example:

  • Playing dodgeball with 2020 foam balls
  • Kick Ball
  • Board Game night
  • Fun trivia games or activities

Besides just activities, scheduling build sessions or times when the whole team meets to work on projects underway is a huge part of engagement. For our team in offseason we have Tuesday and Thursday sessions from 5pm-9pm, and if necessary for driver training or maybe just some extra time for smaller projects, we hold a 9am-1pm session on saturdays.

During build season though, we only have 2 days off a week, that being sunday and wednesday. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday are 5pm-9pm. Fridays are 3:30pm-9pm with a scheduled dinner, and Saturdays are 9am-5pm with a scheduled lunch.

My solution to increasing work ethic: Keep students involved! Teach them new and exciting things, have them work on fun projects and schedule activities when you have less to do during a session. And if a student isnt interested or is not doing well academically, they can choose to drop or stay on the team but not come to build sessions till their grades are a better point, the students can decide on if they want to be on the team or not.


Definitely agree on that last point, there are grade checks every now and then and academics will always be prioritized over robotics by mentors and coaches.

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