How to start collaborations with teams?

Alright, so we’ve all discussed collaborations from here to Tuesday, whether they’re good for FIRST, how the robots have performed, and so on.

But I’ve never heard anything about how these partnerships were created. I’ve seen established teams working with rookies (see also: NiagaraFIRST triplets), and two established teams working together (see also: 254/22, 217/229). Who approaches who? How do you communicate across teams (and states, for that matter)? How do you settle on one design?

I found the key to success for the collaboration, was that we had a unifying link between our three teams. Our General Manager, Matt Vint, was in charge of overseeing the entire project. He was able to ensure that all three teams were always on the same page. When decisions were made, Matt made sure that they were communicated to all three teams. This is crucial to the success of a collaboration.

Our collaboration was greatly simplified by the locations of our teams. All three high schools were withing 30 minutes of each other. Governor Simcoe (1114) was the home base for the collaboration. This is where the assembly of all 4 (including the practice bot) robots took place. Having the common location for assembly helped achieve the desired level of assembly for all robots. Clearly, this isn’t possible for collaborations across states.

When it came to settling on one design, again we had it easier. Our teams functioned more like one big team, than three teams working independently. For our mentors, many didn’t wear a team shirt at competitions, rather they would wear a shirt. There wasn’t too much distinction as to who belonged to which team. As a result, the debates about design weren’t debates across teams, rather they were the typical internal debates that all teams go through.

In response to your question about who approached who, I think in general these collaborations occur when there’s already a strong relationship between two teams. Ideas get bounced around in the off-season, teams realize they have some common goals and complimentary needs. They see that a collaboration would be mutually beneficial.

Having traveled the route of a collaborative effort, I definitely can see the value of them. Although, I caution team who are thinking of undertaking such a venture. Without proper communication, strong management, and a willingness to compromise, the collaboration could become more of a hindrance than a help.

I’ve always thought it would be fun to at least try out. I can definitely see the benefits. For example it is usually much easier to machine 4 of one part than 2 ea. of 2 different parts. And you could even set it up so one team handles the whole frame and drivetrain and the other team handles all the mechanisms and that way neither team has to worry about the other thing much.

For starting one up, finding the right team to collaborate with is the first key. Not every team is suitable for the job, even if they may want to do it. Next, you have to “sell” them on the idea. I would start with something like “You know, last year our robots were so similar. We have a lot of the same ideas. I bet we could have saved some time during the build period if we put or resources together and split up the work. You’ve heard of those teams who get together and build identical robots right? See, we could handle the drivetrain, and you could build the arm, and all we’d have to do is just build twice the quantity of parts, but each team wouldn’t have to design and set up so many different individuial parts. Just think of the time we could save! And it be such a great team building experience too getting the interaction with memebers of another team.” And then see what the other team replies.

I see two ways of approaching it. Kind of casually introducing the idea in face to face discussion. Or, writing up a very flattering letter/email basically saying “We have all these crazy machines and resources and stuff and you have all these crazy design ideas and we’d like to join together with you in creating a masterpiece!”

Again, I’ve never really worked as part of a collaboration in FRC so I don’t know as well as someone who has, but at least that’s how I’d get one going.

You should also be prepared to answer all the questions this team is going to have
Which team does what?
How often will joint meetings be needed?
What if we get behind schedule?
How does the financial apsect work?
Who has authoritative power over designs?
etc etc

I think if you have to do any serious amount of selling, the collaboration shouldn’t happen.

Like Karthik said, a collaboration is most easily formed because two teams know each other really well, and already use each other as a forum for trading and testing ideas.

If you just approached a team because they had a complimentary set of resources to what you have, I don’t think it would work nearly as well. Instead of just getting right to work, you’d have to spend your time just establishing a bond and working relationship between each other.