Improving the Efficacy of a Team

To the FIRST community - mentors, veteran team members, and rookie team members - this is going to be a very long post, but I would like it if you could please take the time to read through it and give me your opinions. They are very valuable to me.

I am seeking advice and feedback on how to improve the efficacy of my team. This year, only about half of the rookies who joined the team in the fall made it through the rest of build season and competition season. I feel that this is of great concern, because we can’t even begin to start new FIRST teams, start FLL teams, or facilitate cultural/community change in any way until we have enough knowledgeable, motivated, and involved students to do so. However, I am finding that we lose too many rookies, and not enough veterans are becoming thoroughly enriched by the program - they aren’t getting as much out of it as they should be. Our team also has communication problems, which hold us back from being as sucessful as we could be. We need to retain and educate our rookies and veterans in order to grow our team - so that we can attempt to do greater things, and have a greater educational impact on our students.

After thinking about these problems, I have attempted to come up with a plan for dealing with them. This plan is meant to be helpful to the FIRST community, but it is also meant to be added to and critiqued. As FIRSTers, I want your advice and feedback about this plan, so that I can improve it and hopefully get new ideas.

**Just as we come up with strategies and designs before we begin to actually build our robots after kickoff, we must come up with a list of goals for our team. **We need to list the characteristics of an ideal team, and *then *come up with a plan for acquiring those characteristics. Here is a list of characteristics I quickly brainstormed that I believe make up a highly effective team that will retain it’s rookie members:

Attributes of a Highly Effective Team

  • Atmosphere of respect and kindness
  • Highly motivated students who are able to lead groups
  • Knowledgeable students with the ability to work independently
  • Students who are able to teach rookies new skills
  • Good communication
  • Everyone knows what their job is and what they are supposed to be doing

** Now, what can our team do to meet the above goals?**

Atmosphere of respect and kindness

  • Make it clear to all team members that disrespectful behavior will not be acceptable
  • Mentors must treat students with respect and understanding, instead of being too sharp and harsh when a student is confused or doesn’t know what to do
  • Break cycles of already-present disrespectful behavior by holding a team meeting to address these issues and explain the importance of a respectful atmosphere
  • Talk to students who are being disrespectful privately about their actions
  • Make sure that the rules about respectful treatment are enforced: i.e. if you see a student speaking rudely towards another, tell them that it is not appropriate
  • Teach students about gracious professionalism, and teach them that it applies to their interactions with each other, not just towards teams at the competition
  • View failures as positive learning opportunities, and never “guilt-trip” anyone for making a mistake. Mistakes are learning opportunities, because rookies will never forget the lesson they learned by making them.

Motivated, Knowledgeable, and Independent Students

  • Make sure students have the opportunity to obtain adequate background knowledge once they have joined the team
  • Basic background knowledge builds confidence in terms of working with veterans on a project
  • Basic background knowledge gives students a better ability to take on new projects - ex: basic knowledge about robotics will enable a student to mentor an FLL team.
  • Basic background knowledge can be obtained by holding workshops to teach rookies the basics about robotics.
  • Ex: Machining workshop, electronics workshop, chassis design workshop, programming workshop, 3DS MAX workshops, Autodesk Inventor workshops
  • Have rookies “intern” with veteran members to learn a new skill.
  • Ex: have rookie students attend FLL robotics meetings held by a veteran team member so that they can learn the knowledge and teaching skills necessary to run a team
  • Ex: pair a veteran student with a rookie student to be a teacher and a resource for knowledge throughout the season (this will also build good interpersonal relationships between veterans and rookie members)
  • Have students practice their leadership skills by assigning them sub-groups to run
  • Have students develop leadership skills by having them head offseason projects
  • Ex: put students in charge of a mini-engineering design competition, such as the BU Design competition, which is what my team is doing this year
  • Ex: have rookie members be a part of a VEX or FLL robotics team

Good Communication

  • Have a communication plan in place, such as a telephone chain, or email announcement system
  • Make sure that everyone knows when and where there are meetings
  • Make sure that rookies always know what they are supposed to be doing
  • Give rookies good directions and have a job assigned for them
  • Put someone in charge of being a communicator between sub groups
  • Always follow up on commitments and agreements made between people

Ok, so now that I have outlined this plan, I have a few things to ask of all of you:

Everyone, but especially mentors:

  • What goals do you think should be added to the plan?
  • What approaches to meeting those goals should be added to each of the categories I have listed (what are good ways to foster respect, educate students, and improve communication)?
  • How does your team reach these goals? What are your methods for improving efficacy?

Everyone, but especially rookie students:

  • How were you treated your rookie year?
  • What problems did you encounter your rookie year?
  • What could have made your rookie year more enjoyable and rewarding?

Everyone, but especially veteran students:

  • How were you treated this year?
  • What problems did you encounter this year?
  • What could have made this year more enjoyable and rewarding?

Thank you all for reading through this monstrously long post. I hope that I can eventually write a more detailed essay on the topic, maybe as a white paper, that can be made a resource to all teams. Please respond to this post in any way you wish, but especially if you have something to add to my lists of goals and methods of reaching them. I value each and every FIRSTer’s opinion, because no matter what your experience has been, it is worth listening to. If you can think of something that would improve your team, post it here. I want to know what your problems are. If you can think of a solution to one of the problems, please post it here also. All solutions and opinions are valued.

– Jaine

Do you know why only half the rookies made it through?

You brought up excellent points and solutions but if you don’t know why members are leaving you don’t know where to really concentrate your efforts or what to change if need be. It is possible that after joining they realized that FIRST isn’t for them but if they became bored or felt “left out” then you’ll know where to start.

P.S. Jaine, your post brings up a lot of points discussed with NEMO and I’m sure many of us will be keeping an eye on it.

Awww man! I was making this big elaborate post with all of this information and then the breaker popped just when I was about to hit enter and I lost everything I posted. :rolleyes:
Well basically this is what I would recommend:

  • We have a [/url which gives our kids a level of accountability to their actions. It keep track of their work on the team, at school and in the community. It directly affects them because it’s how they earn the right to travel. It can even affect if they are on the team next year.
  • We have an interview process so we make sure we have motivated students who are truly interested in being X-Cats.
  • Have a Yahoo group for your team. It’s a great source of inter team communication. Just make sure your kids check their e-mails (sometime our kids don’t)
  • Our kids are assigned important task that they either interview for (coach and assistant coach) , test for (driver, human player), volunteer for (mascot and scouting leader ) or are voted into (student liaison and spirit leader).
  • The best thing we had done was have a pre-season. We stressed team building activities that strengthened the bond between all of the team and we worked wonderfully this year. It is much better to work out the kink in your team in the pre-season than in the build season when such distractions cannot be tolerated.
    -One thing: If there is an issue with your team. DO NOT BRING IT HERE ON CHIEFDELPHI! Do not communicate any team issues electronically. Handle them in person, amongst your team directly. Do not let it fester and do not purposely cause division in the team by making people choose sides. Handle it within a team or private meeting and make sure the problem is resolved so the team can function.
    -Finally have fun! Don’t make winning such a priority that God forbid somebody actually cracks a smile and has fun when things aren’t going well. This may be about making a better future but if nobody is having a good time them nobody will come and participate.](

You’ve got a pretty good start on organizing things and trying to figure out how to move on. When I first became a part of my team, I had no idea of how I was going to be able to contribute. I soon found that there are so many things that a person can do to help out the team, and have a ton of fun while doing it. Maybe the kids are leaving because they are not sure what they can do or what they are allowed to do.

You said that you wanted kids with basic background knowledge. Although it seems efficient, it shouldnt always be the case. If the rookies know nothing, give them the chance to learn, after all, isn’t that what the team is there for?

In our team, we have out president, and the seven sub teams. Each of the subteams have a vice pres. who tells them what needs to get done, and when it needs to get done by. The vp’s are the students (not the rookies) who have gone through a leadership program in before the season starts, to help them be a more effective, well, leader. All the vp’s talk to each other, so all the sub teams know what everyone else is doing at that time. This established good communication, and makes the entire system organized.

You’ve got a great plan started, and I hope that it all comes together for you and your team. Good luck.

Thank you for your comments Brandy836,

What I meant by “background knowledge” was that the students would have the ability to obtain background knowledge, not come in right away with it. I don’t expect that everyone who joins the team know something about robotics - you are right, the program is about learning. What I want to do is make sure that rookies* can get* comprehensive background knowledge after they join the team - that way, it will be alot easier for them to find their place among the veterans and jump into new projects. As an example, I listed various knowledge workshops that the team could hold to educate rookies about the various areas of expertise found on a robotics team. That way, they would gain basic knowledge and awareness of what they can do on the team, and hopefully help them find a discipline of robotics which they may want to focus on. Hopefully it will give them a sense of direction, and prevent them from feeling totally lost, as I did my first year on the team.

Well, my original post was longer - it explained why I felt that rookie members of the team were being lost. But since the post was so long (and it still is) I cut down on the size of it by getting rid of the background information. The rest of the post explains how I think that the areas of the team that need improvement can be improved. The things that I addressed refer to the problems that I believe cause rookies to quit the team, as well as what causes a general lack of efficacy.

In a nutshell (or as nutshell-ish as I can be) these are the reasons why I believe rookies on our team do not stick around:

  • Lack of respect from upperclassmen and veterans
  • A general cluelessness about how to start doing something that they know nothing about
  • Being scolded on occasion for no being a part of a group, when they don’t have any idea what to do
  • Not being given a clearly defined system to work within (lack of cohesiveness, communication)
  • Lack of structure within team, lack of organization
  • Feeling that they can’t take on something for themselves, because they are not comfortable making mistakes
  • Worries about looking stupid and fears of negative consequences if they “mess up”

I appreciate all of you comments so far. Keep sharing your opinions/experiences etc.

– Jaine

Jaine you are off to a wonderful and ambitious venture to improve your team immensely. My input on this as a two year veteran. Keep your veterans working with the rookies. I myself am quite proficient as a student in robot fabrication/ machining. I know I am always teaching the younger students what I know about that aspect of things. Also I recommend giving everyone of your veterans 2nd and 3rd year students a younger student apprentice if u will to pass on there knowledge on what they do for the team. So the rookie student can one day take over this spot. One thing I think my team could have done better this season was involve and appreciate the younger students on our team. Treat them as the future because they are. :]

team 1251
The Tech Tigers