FAHA: What happens when your team runs out of motivation?

Our very first message to the FIRST-a-holic Anonymous Mailbox.

I’ve got a problem on my hands. I sure hope you can help me…

Most of the other students on my team have more or less given up interest in our robot. We began the build season without meetings on Wednesdays or Saturdays; we’re now meeting on both days. Several students have said that they shouldn’t have to come in because they were “promised” that they wouldn’t have to (in fact, they were warned that they probably WOULD need to). The worst part? They actually DIDN’T show up.

The same thing will most likely happen next week, over Winter Break…no one is going to want to come in because “It’s a break! We don’t need to come in!” It doesn’t seem to matter to them that we’re behind schedule and NEED these meetings to have a chance to complete our robot on time.

What can I do? How can I get people to come in? I’m only a lowly student; is there anything I can tell the adults to help resolve the situation?

hmm thats a tough one, however as a 4 year member on my team, i know from experience that it is somtimes hard to motivate people, especially the new members who may not be as experienced. To me, when someone says they arn’t motivated, it means that they arn’t interested. If they are not interested then you could probably think that they dont feel like they are contributing enough to the team. Maybe if they got involved more, however i am not aware of your situation, they could somehow make a part for the robot, make them get involved with the engineers as well as the veteran members. If they feel they are contributing to the team and if they feel that what they are doing is going to help the team, i believe that they will become motivated to be there. However, if they are just sitting there with nothing to do, just watching people make parts and do all the “cool” stuff, then sure, i dont think that i would be very motivated to be their either. Basicly, with my little experience, my opinion would be to get them involved if their not, and if they are involved, then ask them why they dont want to be there and try to accomidate their reasons. Hope this helps. Good luck.

in the long run, the answer is usually just getting more students involved. There will always be kids who aren’t that interested and/or motivated, and there is very little you can do to change that. our team, for example, usually starts out the year with about 40 kids. While not a huge number, it is big enough so that when crunch time comes around there are still at least 7 to 10 that are dedicated enough to do whatever it takes to get the bot done in time.

short term, though, you do indeed have a problem. there is one thing that could help you out, though. while you may be ‘just a lowly student’ in the grand scheme of things, you are certainly not lowly in comparison with the other students. kids often take the critisism of their peers to heart much more quickly than they do the criticism of adults (perhaps they’re just too used to being scolded by adults that they’ve grown immune?). in all likelihood, you - as a student - probably have more sway over your teammates than your mentors do. if all else fails, don’t hesitate to send them on a guilt trip - after all, the fate of the robot is literally in their hands.

Another team’s mom just called me to complain about the same thing. We experience it on our team too. There are a handful of kids we can count on. Sometimes tho it just takes follow up. One of our kids hadn’t been reading his emails, was new, thought meeting daily was only during that one week. One phone call to him and he’s back on track.

IMO you might want to call each student and plainly tell them the facts of building a robot in a short time - and let go of expectations that you telling them will bring them in. You might want to let parents know - sometimes the kids aren’t translating to the parents what’s really going on. And, yes, I try to have food at every meeting. That can sometimes get time consuming for me, and frustrating when I’m playing phone tag with a food sponsor. But having food at every meeting helps us retain our workers. Take a look at our sponsor list, and you might get some ideas of the food places that will donate.

I think a lot of teams use the trips as a reward for time put towards the robot. Keep track of how many hours each student participates during the 6 weeks. Explain that only X amount of students can go, lie if you have to. Give “double time” for time spent at mandatory meetings, if someone doesn’t show up for a mandatory meeting a familly member should have died or they get time taken away from their total.

People who are all about FIRST don’t need the trip as a prize to know why they should put a lot of time into FIRST. However, newbies usually need to experience the first year before they decide to throw tons of their time at it.

i’m in a similar situation.

Team comprised of 24 kids

and we meet every day, and on average there’s about 4 - 5 people that show up.

I’ve pretty much given up on getting people to come, becuase they really isn’t anything that I can do. I could cut them, but there’s still hope they might come through and help out in the end.

Honestly though, if all 24 kids showed up, I wouldn’t know what to tell them to do.

With 5 or 6 kids we can probably do the whole thing with really needing any more hands.

Getting kids involved is always a great way to keep them interested, but it can be very frustrating. First, make sure that your mentors are aware of your concerns. They may have ideas on how to deal with your problem, but aren’t fully aware of whats going on. If you don’t think that you have enough of a voice to change anything, talk to someone who can.

Make sure the students feel like they’re actually helping. I know that there are many meetings I went to that I wouldn’t have if I had thought I wasn’t needed. When people feel needed, they’re more likely to show up.

Understand that not everyone is as commited as you. In my opinion, if someone shows up only once a week, that’s better then not at all.

Unfortunatly, one of the best teaching methods is failure. If you tell somebody something, they can deny it. If they see it for themselves, they can’t. You’re robot may have to be shipped incomplete for everyone to realize what they need to do next year.

It sounds like your team is starting to suffer through burnout. If anything, I’d say you’re meeting too much. Yes, you’re behind but meeting too often can cause you to fall even further behind. It’s much better to have fewer, more productive meetings than having a lot of seldom productive meetings. Don’t meet just because you can.

As for what you can do, the first key thing is to come up with a schedule. Figure out what you still need to get done and break it down to subtasks. Then assign each subtask to a time you’re meeting. This will give you an idea of how often you need to meet to finish the robot and will make sure everyone knows exactly what point in the build process you are in. I think you’ll find it a lot easier to get people to come in when they know exactly what needs to be done that day. You can also rearrange the schedule in progress whether to add or remove days but always have a specific reason for it (i.e. we planned to get X done today, but we didn’t, so we need to meet tomorrow to finish it).


From my experience teams go through cycles of intense excitement (Kickoff) followed by a gradual lessening of interest until the end when the thrill returns (Regional). A few will continue with it to the end. This is similar to any group endeavor. A few will ramrod the process, a few will stand by and pitch in occaissonally, a few will offer advice and a few will wander away when its no longer “fun”. Keep the ones interested and excited away from the complainers and whiners and it should all work out well. The optimum would be a well organized, highly motivated, interested group of committed individuals who do it because they love it. After the inspiration and initial gee-whiz has worn off its just getting down to business and moving forward with the group. Their expectations need to be tempered with realism. Not everyone will get to be a star and not everyone will get their way all the time. Sort of like life in general. Some also serve who only stand and wait.

Maybe my view of this is a bit too simplistic.

The only thing that happens when you feel as if your team members aren’t motivated enough to accomplish their tasks is that you will learn if you’re more or less motivated than they are. If you’re more motivated, take up the slack. If not, don’t place the blame of things undone on your team members any more than you do on yourself.

Motivation is the key to a good team. Having everyone there all the time is an important part of keeping things going.

Though it’s perhaps too late to start this up now, one thing that’s important is make sure people make attendance a pride thing. On our team, we have an automated scheduler and timeclock with a comparission sheet. People can see how the rate up to each other in terms of hours devoted. This creates friendly competition among us to show up and be on time.

However, what it sounds like now is that you need to give a pep (read: pump up) talk. I periodically give a pep talk every few meetings. I praise people who stay late, show up early, take extra time. I make sure that people realize that those who stayed late were tired, but did it anyway.

From the looks of it, you guys NEED to be meeting on Saturday. We’ve been meeting every Saturday from 10am until 4, and then later at 6 until about 10 or 11 PM.

How to make a Successful Super-Saturday

Super Saturday’s on 461 are key - but you’ve gotta really get people pumped up about showing up. If you can get them to show up, you can get them to stay late with the right attitude.

They key is whoever is planning this needs to make it sound like a good time. It needs to be fun - more fun than what people would rather be doing on Saturay. More fun than sleeping in (we start ours at 10 AM, earlier isn’t a good plan).

Promises of food works particularly well. Also, encourage people to bring in their (screened for content) CD collection. Make building the robot FUN - have a dance party or a snowball fight part of the way though.

(Note that no successful super-Saturday can ever start without the Rocky Training Monologue and Eye of the Tiger. GET PUMPED UP.)

Before people are there, it’s best to get a list of things you want to accomplish written out somewhere so everyone can see them. If you’re going to have a marathon of a day, you need to have a marathon of a plan. For instance, we often times divide our team into it’s subgroups (wings, propeller, electronics, tail) and write everything they need to do on the board. People don’t go home until they’re done (or it’s way too late).

The other key is that you need to praise the people who show up. People have other things they’d like to do then be at school for another 4-10 hours. Make sure they feel appreciated. Make sure they know that they’re valued. Telling them this individually makes a world of difference, especially coming from someone who’s a leader (either student or mentor) on the team. People who feel valued and who feel they have ownership will have good attendance habits. Those who feel like they’re not doing much will not attend as regularly, if at all.

You need to emphaisize is that you are a team, with a common goal, and the team needs everyone’s help to be a success. If your team doesn’t have a lot of team pride, then keep in mind who you are representing- your high schoool, your state, and you country, since this is an international competition. It only takes a certain amount of man-hours to get a robot rolling (between 1500 and 4000 from my experience) and the more productive hours people put in, the faster the robot will be made. Right now, it’s near the end.

This is crunch time.
It’s go time.
No holding back.

Let people know when they make valuable contributions, and try to thank them both individually and in front of the group. They’ll feel ownership, and be motivated to come and rise to the challenge that FIRST is all about.
Good luck,


Great ideas!!! Can you tell me more about the automated scheduler and timeclock with comparison sheet?

I may be a little off base here, because I’ve been away from FIRST and MOE for about a half of a year now. I was the driver last year for team 365, and I loved robotics more than most things during my senior year. Every chance that i got, i tried to spend it in the shop practicing with the bot. But I had to realize, just because I had time to spend in the shop doesn’t mean no one else had obligations that they had to tend to. To tell you the truth, if the mentors of my team had not explicitly warned me about being VERY available during the last couple weeks, I may have planned things and then not been able to cancel them due to unfortunate priorities. I’m not trying to say you’re wrong in saying they’re not committed, I don’t know enough information about the situation to point fingers at anyone. But what i want to tell you is to be careful. During the last weeks of build phase and during competitions, I started to say things that I shouldn’t have. I pointed out people’s mistakes and shortcomings so far that I was missing my own. I ruined a lot of what could have been much better relationships with the people who i worked with for so long. Next time you go to a meeting, walk around the shop and look at everyone there, and point out the good things that each of them are doing. A bunch of mentors and students did that for me last year, and that’s why I stayed motivated. Good luck to you and your team. The same goes to team 365 and 1370, MOE and M-Town.

I know that our team has a minimum time commitment, other wise you can’t go on trips (new this year, and has made more people come) also, you have to make things fun and get kids moving, working and doing things. Having kids work and then see the final result (the robot, or the arm or the base something that moves, that natured stuff) really makes them feel special, especially new kids, now on my 3rd year, i know whatever i do in the machine shop will make the robot work, so as you get older you don’t mind putting wheels together or simple stuff, versus the rookies putting the arm together, seeing a end result really helps, although the required time makes them come in the first place.

possibly a little off topic.
An idea here was to give a set amount of money to the trip and then write down the time given to the robot, sum the time, and devife the money by hte amount of time, then multiplying this amount by the amount of hours that any particular person has given. Thus the people who give low time, get low “subsidies” and have to pay more to get to nyc than those who spent too long on the robot. However this was deemed impractical, as accurately recording the time and deciding on an appropriate amount was not possible. Perhaps some sort of software could be used for this purpose