How to be a team captain

Hi everyone! I’m this year’s captain of team 7636. This is my second year of being an FRC player. This season I was voted as captain from my teammates. How to be a good captain for a team? Pls give me some advice :slight_smile:

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Don’t call yourself team captain.

checks username

Maybe not literally, but a lot of people don’t keep themselves in check well. Don’t make team members feel like there’s a hierarchy with yourself at the top of the students; that’s how you end up (unintentionally) suppressing valuable opinions and insight from team members that may feel they don’t “deserve” to be considered. The only thing you hear is the loudest voices, not the most helpful.

How this actually plays out will vary based on team size, relation to school/whatever (some schools have a “club president” or “team captain” as an official representative), and your team makeup. 330 was almost completely flat, and that works with a small team. You can’t always do that with 100+ students, but the structure should not feel nor look like a pyramid with level upon level of bureaucracy.

Follow up: will you also be your team’s “team captain” at events as well? I know some teams have a “team captain” and an “event” or “alliance” captain (often lead strategist or similar position, and always on the drive team).

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Although our team don’t have a student team captain, we do have various student leadership roles that allow us students to help mentor and lead our own peers. With that said, I don’t really know what the details about what a team captain does or their responsibility but I can at least give my perspective and some of the things I’ve done well and not so well.

1. Stay humble
Although you’ve been given a leadership role by your peers and or mentors, don’t let that title get to your head too much. After all it’s just a title nothing more nothing less. There have been times when I let this role get to the best of me. And no one like someone who has the urge to constantly remind everyone their some how better than everyone else. Although your decisions may have more weight on the team, remind everyone that your no differ than them. Everyone on the team should have an equal voice ad weight in any discussion that goes on within the team.

2. Communication
This one is key in anything in life. Being able to clearly and concisely communicate ideas and thoughts with others as well as building a line of communication where everyone can hear any tasks or ideas that are being presented while listening to any issues that sub teams or individual may have and working towards a solution. Not only is having a means of communication open to everyone great for the overall execution of tasks it also allows everyone to stay up to date on the major or minors updates happening within the team so that everyone is in the loop. It also allows you the opportunity to create even more trust between you and your peers. But more importantly, the mentors who ultimate help facilitate the team long after you graduate. After all, no one likes it when someone keeps secrets from others.

3. Have decentralized command
Now I learned this from the book “Extreme ownership” (definitely a great read). They talk about how it’s essential to have, in this case, great sub-team leads. It allows the team to continue to do whatever their doing even when your not around to help answer everyone’s questions. Having great sub team leads allows you to delegate big tasks/goals to the leads and for you to not get bogged down in the day to day tasks and the nitty gritty, rather it allows you to take a step back and helps you get a birds eye view of the bigger picture of the team, weather that’s major deadlines for tasks (major mechanisms, integration, etc). This also allows you to have quicker updates from everyone aspect of the team since your not having to talk to every single person on the team; just the student sub team leads for the major developments or roadblocks.

4. Admit when your wrong or just don’t know
Sometimes the title of team captain or build lead in my case, can imply or give the illusion to your peers that you know everything and are the gatekeeper to every decision that goes on within the team, when in actuality that’s not always the case. Sure you have have been elected to a certain position cause you know you way around the ropes and a thing or two that less your experienced peers may not know. But that should never hamper you from saying “I don’t know” or “I’m wrong”. Life is a learning process and that means its okay to admit when you don’t know something. Look at it as an opportunity for you and maybe others to learn something new. If you think your peers or even the mentors might think less of you for not knowing, that’s completely false. What admitting you don’t know or admitting your wrong does is show that your human. It can help to build or reinforce a culture within your team that shows yours peers that it’s completely okay to get things wrong or not understand something; That it’s okay to fail sometimes.

5. Take it easy on yourself
Remember you don’t have to make every decision and do everything. That’s what the mentors are for. They help facilitate the team and resolve issues that you or other people on the team may have. Don’t let this title feel like a burden to you; as if the teams succeeds or failure rests on your shoulders, cause it does’t. Every team fails or succeeds as a team. It’s never one persons fault, its the collective failure of everyone. Establishing blame on a single person or a group of people does more harm than good.

I’d also like to add that this might be something worth glancing over. It’s a FRC mentoring guide, although it’s geared towards adult mentors, it doesn’t mean you can’t implement some of the things talked about in the pdf.

If you have any questions feel free to DM me.

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Seconding the previous suggestions… adding a few more things.

It’s a powerful thing to lead by example.

If you are genuinely passionate, hardworking, and show how much you care about the team, they will pickup on that and likely try to imitate those qualities.

Also it’s good to clarify and understand (not decide) what your team’s measure of success is, and do everything you can to move things towards that direction.

Besides that, a baseline priority should be to be kind, empathetic and understanding to all the members and make sure that they are doing well, leaning, having fun etc.

Congrats on the nomination and good luck!

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Your teammates don’t work for you, you work for your teammates. Teach skills such that you’re obsolete then learn to speak the language of the specialties across FRC and support your teammates however they see fit.

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Alright, so I’ve been captain of my team for a 2 years now (this is my third year as captain), and here’s my advice (on top of everything else that’s been said):

  1. Pay close attention to the vibe / mood you put out. Take it from someone with experience – even if your prospects look completely bleak, you have to stick it through and stay optimistic. As a leader, you’re a virus in that your mood can quickly set the tone for the entire team.

As an aside, make sure you’re not saying anything negative about your team in public forums (this is from personal experience as well) – even if you’re really struggling with a team culture issue and need help, it’s best to reach out to people directly, since it can have a huge impact on team morale.

  1. Your primary job as a leader is to enable the team to succeed however possible – this means training new members, writing sponsor emails, finding technical resources, and “filling in the gaps” and doing work wherever necessary. For me that meant learning a lot about every technical aspect, and training most of the members, and doing a lot of CAD work in-season (since we were short-staffed there), but it could totally vary for you.

  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the community – asking questions on platforms such as ChiefDelphi and Discord is a great way to learn, and nobody’s gonna judge you for not knowing something.

It’s already a great start that you’re asking on a public forum such as this one, and I’m sure you’ll do a great job! Feel free to message me if you have any questions, and i’ll be more than happy to answer :slight_smile:

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As captain, you should be the hardest working member of your team. Lead by example, and make sure to delegate effectively to keep all members engaged.

A good captain will defer all of the credit, and shoulder all of the blame.

Work with the mentors on your team as well as the students. Some mentors feel like they need to be invited to participate and as team captain you’re in the perfect position to do that.

I would also say that while you probably have a strong passion for this program, recognize that many of your peers may not take it as seriously as you. You can only push people so hard to be productive before you start pushing people away. If you push too hard, they might end up burying your car in snow…

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The fact you’re taking the time to figure out how to do the job well is literally the best first step I can think of. You’re thinking about it right already - Good job, and keep it up!

Most of my thoughts were already covered by others:

IMO, the first and foremost responsibility of any leader is enabling team members to do their job well. Blast down roadblocks, clear the way for progress. Make sure team members are engaged, happy, and functional. This leads to my main recommendation: Build Consensus to Make Decisions.

Not everyone has to be perfectly happy with every decision, but everyone has to be willing to back up the decisions made. Go out of your way to ensure everyone’s willing to be on-board with your decisions, and address concerns strongly. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to pick the best answer and keep everyone onboard with the decisions.

Also, be sure that you have someone that you can report to, confide in, and bounce leadership ideas off of - ideally someone on the team, or who is aware of team-specific leadership challenges. The exact makeup and nature of each team is gonna be different, so there are few pieces of advice that always work. Being able to bounce ideas off of someone also “in the know” is invaluable .

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This is probably the best advice I’ve ever seen on CD, so kudos.

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Good ideas and discussion here. I’ve worked with and mentored many FRC team captains, and have learned a few things. Along with the great advice listed above, please consider these things:

  1. Show up early and leave late. The least successful team captains just show to team activities at the same time as their teammates and seem to be eager to leave meetings to get to their next engagement. Don’t be that person.

  2. Understand that all teams have robodrama. Leaders are defined by how they deal with it. Your ability to deal with it will help define your year.

  3. Student discipline: It’s the captain’s job to empower and encourage, but not to punish. Leave that to the adults.

  4. Parent drama: Whenever there are frustrations or issues from parents, quickly point them to find resolution through the mentors, not the student captain.

  5. Student leadership role designation: I believe that student team leaders should have input on which students become the competition roles (driver, operator, pit boss, etc.), but the final decision is the responsibility of the lead mentors. I’ve seen this be shouldered by the student leaders and too much ill will followed. Let the mentors take the majority of the responsibility for this.

  6. Plan to have fun. Many students take their leadership roles seriously, rightfully so. At the same time, they need to remember to have fun. Leisure activities, innocent pranks, team traditions, and other fun things to do with the team do require some planning.

Best of luck!

Andy B.

(edit: I consider all adults on an FRC team “mentors”)

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FWIW, while it’s good to have responsibility on mentors to resolve conflicts like this, that’s often not an option for people –
Using myself as an example, our team didn’t have involved mentors until late 2019, and so it fell to me to try to resolve parent drama and occasionally student issues (sometimes the drama involved the mentors as well, which made it that much worse to navigate).

In situations like this, my biggest advice to the OP is just to not let it consume you / make sure to focus on your other commitments (school, family) and health before dealing with it, and finding someone who you can reach out to for advice to help out (in my experience, mentors of other teams have been an amazing resource).

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I recommend starting by talking to your mentors and making sure you understand what your responsibilities are. On my team we have a team president and a bunch of subteam leads, so the president is not in charge of robot design decisions (their input is valued, but no more than any other experienced member). They are mainly responsible for team organization - making a Gantt chart at the beginning of build season, assigning people to tasks at the beginning of each meeting, periodically checking in with subteam leads to see if they need more support with anything, etc. But that’s just my example; your job may be different than my team’s president’s. The important thing is that you and your mentors are on the same page about your role.

I also recommend setting a couple big-picture team goals for the year. Is your goal to make it to playoffs at competition? To put a robot on the field that drives and scores points in every match? To win Chairman’s? To recruit a certain number of new members? To raise a certain amount of money? This goal-setting can be done with the mentors, with the subteam leads, or with your team as a whole if it’s on the smaller side, but coming to some agreement about the team’s priorities for the year will help you understand where to focus most of your energy.

And I echo other people about staying humble - you’ve been given a particular job with specific responsibilities, not the position of supreme dictator. Your mentors and/or teammates chose you for a specific role because they thought your leadership would help the team accomplish certain things; if you understand the role and goals, ask for help when you need it, and don’t go power-crazy, you’ll be on the right track.

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First, I want to commend you for taking this step. Asking how to be a good team captain is how someone becomes a team captain. Being reflective in leadership is valuable at all levels. On our team we have invested a lot into student leadership and thinking about how we can build our students in this space. Our teacher and I are both working through organizational management graduate programs and through this both had to study the book Leadership by Peter Northouse and have tried to include some of the lessons and strategies in the process.

The big thing we think about is that everyone is different and every leader is different, so finding the skills and styles that work for you are crucial. There are dozens of different leadership styles that you can use, but a few that we have found that we tend to teach our students:

  1. Servant Leadership - This is for a leader to be focused on their teammates through connecting, nurturing and empowering your team members. This is one of our most common strategies we use with students because it is fairly simple to grasp an helps build the team, especially if you have several assistant captains. You want to work with your team members to hear their concerns, help them devise ways to solve them and then support them through the process. I think this is really good too if you are an upperclassman and have a team with several younger students. I am a little biased because this is the style I try to use, but I think it is very good for teams.
  2. Skills Approach - This is also a pretty basic concept that is a little bit more theoretical. Basically, think about what a good leader you have worked with, whether that is a coach, a student, a parent or someone else and try to model the behaviors and skills that they had. This can also be used with a lot of other styles, but some of the things I like to thing about include: how do they communicate, how do they work with others, and what do they do.
  3. Path-Goal Leadership - The basic idea of this theory is that you evaluate your team, identify a goal and the leader is tasked with building and managing the path to get there. There is a lot to this style, but a key thing is to look critically at who is working on a project and match your engagement and involvement with them based on that. Think like “These two students are in their first year on the team and are working on our climber. I will need to encourage them and be more hands-on in the process showing and communicating with them. Meanwhile we have two four-year members who are building the drivetrain and have experience. They can be left alone and might just need encouragement to get the job done.” I think this is a great leadership style if you have multiple sub-teams working on different projects.
  4. Authentic Leadership - In my opinion this is the hardest style of leadership and I think it is very rarely the correct way for individuals to lead. This is more focused on being an example for others and leading as an image of the team. You need to be very introspective and internalize the goals of the team and the reflect those goals through your actions. I think you need to be incredibly extroverted for this strategy as well.

I am just a random person, but I am happy to chat with anyone that wants to talk about this privately. Like I said, everyone’s leadership style is different and there are different fits for everyone.

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  1. Make sure to listen to your teammates

  2. Your role isn’t to do everything. Your role is to make everyone else better and guide your team in the best direction

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A word I haven’t seen on here yet is that you should be a facilitator. Often that is seen as making it possible for others to do their jobs. But what it really means is when you think of what a facilitator does in meetings. You steer the conversation to keep it on track, table items that can’t be decided immediately, and make sure everyone is able to give their input. This will allow you to be both a leader and a delegator.

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It may help you to read through “How To Win Friends And Influence People” periodically especially since you will be working with a lot of people.

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This. Whenever I could help it, I would make most decisions team decisions. Some things were obviously more mentor decisions, others I would make, but most I took everybody’s input in.

A big piece of advice I got from prior tech leads (the tech lead was often in the pseudo-team captain.) Don’t be a tech lead do it all. Lead by example and when things go wrong itll be all right in the end.

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