Improving a team

Hi CDers,

My “name” is Lemiant and I am a 14 year old grade ten student (which happens to be the first year of high-school here in Canada). Our first meeting of the year will be tomorrow.

I am wondering: How can a mediocre team become more successful? In community outreach, school recognition, and support of FIRST values, not just winning. Here is some background:

*I have been involved in FIRST since grade 7, when I was on an FLL team. We had a spectacular team and coach, and went to the world festival that year. The next year after that (my grade 8) we started an FTC team, and had a great time. With an even better team (although much smaller at only 5 members), and the same stellar coach we managed to get on the winning alliance that year in Atlanta. Unfortunately a number of members from that already small team moved into high-school and as a result we did not have a team last year.

Because I loved the taste of FIRST I got in Junior high, I decided to go to the only high-school in the city that has an FRC team. The team is not amazing, being the only FRC team in our region. And it lacks quite a bit in recognition at our school, with a majority of the population not knowing about it.

So far I have been really looking forward to the start of the season. I even met two member from my FLL team (both a year older than me). The second one, I met today, and I was especially happy because he was a very effective member from the FLL team and I respect him a lot; however he gave me some unhappy news:

Apparently the team last year was not very effective, with a lack of things to do driving a large population out of the club. Planning was lacking, as the FTC (yes, we do that too, before FRC starts) robot was finished by just a few members in the last few days before our competition, and was as a result low quality. It seems like members coming from the team I was on in FLL (from my year and years past), took over the club and really excluded a large portion of the group, to the detriment of the whole team.

So with the first meeting coming quickly, I’m looking for advice on what I (along with others I can convince) can do to help our team: Help it grow, in numbers and retention; Help create a larger community footprint; Help make our team a significant organization; maybe even spread FRC into our city and most importantly help tame those monopolizing the club. Helping make this club enjoyable for everyone, and spreading the meaning of FIRST to more people in our school…

…And of course, to help us win stuff.*

Thanks for any advice,


PS sorry for the wall of text.


That was a good wall of text. Well thought out for a 14 year old indeed. I think you and your friends could make some progress toward making a great team.

You have identified some of the big picture problems and an up close problem. You stated with some clarity a vision of where you want to go. Now you have to decide how to get there.

One of the things you can do is some team building. When a new student comes in the door ask yourself how we can get that person busy doing something that has value, to the person and the team. They don’t necessarily have to be a robot builder at this moment to be valuable.

Organize or join events where you can take a group of students out to do something cool. It helps build the team, and helps with community awareness. For example our team is going out to do a lake cleanup followed by a picnic. It is sponsored by a local organization and they feed us. It is a fun day in the sun and might get us some community newspaper coverage if we wear our team shirts and let them know we are there. You can get some good vibes from something like that and then you can move toward your next thing to do.

As you move forward and build your team then you can start attacking the other problem you identified, ‘lack of planning’. Start sketching out some plans and see if you can find a mentor or two to be an advisor on your team planning efforts. That will be a good way to get mentors more involved. And you will want to recruit and keep good mentors to help with your planning.

It may be a little boring but a few weeks ago I gave a lecture that is related to this subject. It was intended for mentors but take a stab at it and see if you get anything from it.

Go HERE and on the lower right there are 3 videos on team sustainability.

Lemiant, what I think would be great for your club would be to contact your city council and see if they will give you any funding for the team, or maybe let you come to the next city council meeting to show off your robot. I found that this strategy worked really well for our team when I implemented it two years ago.

Basically do everything you can to get your team known, brainstorm with your team ideas where you can show off FIRST and its values, then let people see, or drive your robot. You can really get the parent’s attention when their son and/or daughter start pulling at them to go see a robot. In which case you care “upsell” the ideals of FIRST and what it means to be a FIRST team. You can consider this a long-term investment, because you know when the parent hears the words “scholarships” and “college” in the same sentence, they won’t forget it. Also you might get lucky, like my team did, and meet a local company that wants to sponsor you, or a new mentor from the community that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. Community events are a great way for your team to become known.

As a leader last year, I also had a problem with giving people things to do, but I found as long as I kept my eyes open for something to do I could make a list in my head of stuff for people to do. If I was working on the robot and I saw someone just standing around, I would have them either help me by handing me tools, or holding things for me. Really, if you just open your eyes and look at everything generally you can find something that needs to be done, or someone else that needs help.

I hope whatever I just typed above helped a little bit,

Very clear post, and I would say its a great start to solving some of your teams problems.

To answer your question on how to “tame those monopolizing the club”… Don’t think of it as taming them. They’ll see it as taking something away from them if you ask them to be less involved or to give others things to do. Instead, you could try to approach them by given them more responsibility and more power. Instead of letting them exclude everyone while they work on the robot, make them student leaders on the team. Let them lead a small group of other students (2-3 others) in accomplishing a task or component. If there’s one thing I’ve learned working, it’s that the more responsibilities you have, the less time you have to actually get your hands dirty and work.

I would also caution you against trying to do too much at once - you and everyone else will get burned out. Set one clear goal for this year (like improving your organization and team involvement). The rest - spreading FIRST, increasing the size of the team, community involvement - all have to come second to that goal. If you solve your internal problems first, you’ll find it much easier to start looking externally. If you try to look externally first, you’ll end up with more issues - you can recruit people, but they’ll just get discouraged from the internal issues you’ve listed. You can go spread the word, but if everyone on the team isn’t enthusiastic the message will fall flat.

Good advice for teams but the problem I see is that you are new on the team. You will need to be careful how you present any ideas. I think I would talk with the main mentor on the team. As a new person on the team (or when starting a new job) you really can not have all the info you need, just one person’s point of view. I would start off slow, learning how this team works, asking lots of questions, volunteering to help or take on certain projects as they come up. Perhaps your enthusiasm will catch on.

I certainly do not mean to discourage you from trying to improve your team. I just wanted to caution you that you do it in such a way that it doesn’t alienate the established members.