Large Teams - What do you use your manpower for?

The team I am currently on is quite small - and we only have around 5 members I could describe as “very active”. Suffice to say, we haven’t had too much success and we always seem overstretched. Over the course of this summer, we’ve been investigating ways to increase our manpower, as well as get more mentors to effectively utilize newfound manpower.

It seems like the best teams at our regionals, and the best teams in the world, have a boat-load of people. They fill bleachers. Their team photos need to be taken from above. It looks like they have 35-50 people.

What are these people used for? Obviously, extra hands helps with field construction and “non-robot” tasks like marketing or outreach. But how does one translate more people into a better bot?

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Organization is how you translate, and training.

You have 5 members. That means that you have 5 people each doing 20 things that all need to be done now. If you have 20 members, you have 20 people each doing 5 things that all need to be done now. So you get better and faster results, if you do it right.

First things first, you need to train the members. Start now. After they’re trained in the ways of your team and shop, you can:

  • Do more prototypes, and more in-depth prototypes
  • Do more outreach (more available people means better chance of outreach any given attempt)
  • Build parts faster (given tools availability)
  • Build field elements while the KOP drive is being put together, instead of before or after
  • Go raise funds
  • Actually have somebody who can organize the shop and tell you that you’re out of Versaplanetary 4:1s before you realize that you need one tomorrow for competition and don’t have one…
  • Programmers will kill me for not saying this earlier, but split the code up among several people so you can have more complex code (and more bug hunters)

You get the idea. You’ll also have a scouting crew, a dedicated pit crew, meal prep if you do it right…

BUT! You do need to organize a bit–subteam splits, have somebody assign work, things like that. It’s not just “this needs doing, first one to call it”; it might be “this needs doing, YOU get busy and grab Who and What to help you”.


One of the big advantages of more manpower is doing things in parallel. A smaller team may think they only have time to prototype one variant of shooter, but the bigger team can prototype several types of shooters in the same or similar timeframe.

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I channel 2791’s 120 students to come up with mildly amusing things to say on Chief Delphi


Jokes aside, from my experience, the limiting factor on the productivity of a large team isn’t the availability of tasks but the effectiveness of management provided by mentors and student leaders. Many tasks on a team can be done better or more quickly with more manpower, but only if there are 1) sufficiently trained/skilled students and 2) leadership that can effectively see both the big picture and the demons in the details and coordinate everyone’s efforts accordingly.

2791 suffered this year from both a lack of mentors and insufficiently structured student leadership. While we probably won’t have more mentors due to myself and two others having graduated from RPI in May, we will have significantly more organized leadership in 2020.


Being in a somewhat similar situation I’ll offer a couple of thoughts. I hope nobody takes exception…no criticism is intended. But it’s the Internet so who knows…

  1. Large team size does not exist in isolation. It almost always is correlated with a longer team history, a larger assemblage of previous ideas, spare parts, tools and lore, more sponsors, more money etc. You are competing - and of course cooperating - in an environment where you will usually be the underdog. Savor your successes, they are all the more enjoyable for the odds involved!

  2. You appear to be equating success with winning. This is a reasonable criteria, and one that is perhaps a bit over emphasized on CD. But I don’t consider it to be the only or even best measure. Your five students who did most of the work on that robot “own” it to a greater extent than say a team of 100 where the design was “built on the foundation” of what the team has built over the last decade. Per capita education and personal development is going to be higher on your team regardless of the W/L record. I think you are training the future innovators and garage level startup entrepreneurs. Not that there is anything wrong with the major player teams creating that larger and necessary group of efficient team players.

  3. As a team hitting year five we have just graduated half our roster strength. All those quirky, fun, innovative kids who (along with their mentors) really did not know what they were doing! So we are in a roster expansion mode too. We have ramped up our “farm system” in ways that look very promising. Send me a PM if you want details.

And hang in there. Of course there will be times where you question whether it is all worth while.

It is.

Tim Wolter

This is so important and something our team needed to learn this year. We also have a small team, only around 5 or 6 dedicated members in a team of about 15 kids. We didn’t do too great at any of our competitions. Came in last place at worlds. We couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. But, we took a step back and tried to break it down. We had a well built robot, we had everything CADed and planned, we had good drivers. But we kept losing and not ranking well. It wasn’t until the offseason that we really pulled together and made some big decisions. We got a team captain. We organized and assigned actual sub team leads. We communicated with each other. We assigned new drivers, and a new drive coach. And those things were huge for us. It’s not about doing everything, it’s about knowing how to use what you have. We placed 3rd and made it to semis at our last offseason. But we couldn’t have done that before organizing and planning beforehand. This was a big year for our team. We were very successful, even if it wasn’t on the field.

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We had 38 students this past year, and we brought most of them to competitions. We utilize our extra team members by opening up a Tucker Team Help Desk, which is designed to help any team in need of an extra set of hands, parts, or some knowledge on anything robot-related. This benefits a lot of newer teams at our events; especially the Palmetto Regional, which is in Week 1. Our goal is to help these teams get on the field, and eventually come back the following year. I’d say it’s been pretty successful, and it empties our stands until eliminations come around.

In our area, it is not uncommon to see students and mentors from the larger team spending many, many hours in the pits of the less established teams, helping them install control systems, debug software, build bumpers, etc. These teams also provide many of the volunteers that run the events. They are “invisible” because they are wearing Volunteer shirts rather than their team shirts.

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A couple years ago, 346 had about 60 students, with about 40+ at any given competition and an additional 20-30 mentors. Being one of the largest teams in out district, we utilized our size for a massive scouting setup. We had 12 active scouts along 8 other positions for input and analysis. Having a solid scouting and strategy team has a direct positive impact on robot performance. It is not necessary to have 20 people scouting, but it is much easier when there are more people watching the game from a strategic perspective.

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