Politics in Robotics, Need Help

In past years on our team, we have just had captains and everyone else. But this year, some of the more senior students on our team decided to create a “Jedi Knight Council” in order to talk about and make decisions about robotics. A lot of people on the team (including myself), some in the council and some not on the council, think that this is a bad idea. We think that this divides the team too much, and also people who want to have a say in what goes on in the robot (like myself) don’t have as much say to what is going on. There is a meeting after practice tomorrow in order to talk about it. Does anyone have any advice on how to solve this problem? I don’t want this to become a battle, just to be solved and then put to bed. Have other people had political problems at robotics? What were they and how were they solved?

Having some sort of student leadership structure is important, but forming a “council” of veteran students may not be the best way to go about it. On 1126, we have a student-elected group of student leaders that work with mentor leaders throughout the season.

As far as deciding what goes on the robot, that comes down to strategy. Randomly forming a group of people doesn’t sond like it would be as effective as strategy needs to be, and selecting who is “invited” may divide the team. Us 1126 folks have a strategy subteam which consists of the Drive Team, some lead mentors and some students who are usually good about reading the rules, but it is usually open to those who want to join (those interested in tryong out for the Drive Team are usually encouraged to join). Its is this Strategy Team that comes up with a few ways we want to play and then pitches them to the team as far as what functions we need on the robot.

So: short answer = have a team that does influence decisions as to what the robot will have but make sure there is some method behind it.

Let me know if anything needs clarifying! Im sure many other members of CD also have some valuble input!

It’s a good idea, if managed properly.

That said, by the sound of it, it’s a small group of students taking over the entire decision-making process of the team. That’s not proper management, in this case.

I would say this: If there is going to be a council, council decisions need to be discussed with the entire team, and kept to emergency use only (i.e., we have a 3-way tie on designs and it’s Week 3, which do we eliminate/select, or “Hey, so-and-so wants a demo in two days, can we do this?”). Then the role of the council needs to be (repeat, needs to be) written down in a team handbook or other similar document.

I’m going to give a little idea from a team I’m on right now: we have 5 departments which take care of different areas. Each has an officer; one officer is designated as the team lead. But, all 5 officers meet as officers on a regular basis to coordinate what’s going on and see who needs to get their act together this time; anything discussed at that meeting that is deemed appropriate is discussed at the normal team meeting(s) for the week. The Executive Council (as it’s officially known) is specifically called for in the team constitution. The only reason the EC would make a decision without going through the appropriate team area would be extreme urgency.

So, proper management of this “Jedi Knight Council” would be that it doesn’t make decisions itself save in urgent situations or to break a tie, but functions as an advisory board to get the team to make the decision. It could also be used to discuss options so that the team can make an informed decision.

You need to draft a very basic set of rules and guidelines on how decisions will be made on your team, who will make them, and who they will be elected. These rules should be ratified by a vote from the students.

One thing I don’t want to happen is for the team to be divided even more because of this issue…

There is nothing wrong if a group of students wants to meet privately and discuss something. There is nothing wrong if they meet and make decisions privately. In my honest opinion, a private group meeting amongst a group of friends can be more productive than a team-wide discussion. In eliminates the fear of public speaking, the fear of being judged, and creates a more open and relaxed environment, which, for many people, can breed more creative ideas that can expand into something even greater.

Now, the problem becomes when the decisions made by this group are set in stone then and there. While I generally am a supporter of a small-group discussion and decision making, it’s a problem when that group has power that is not kept in check (the same way the U.S. government is set upon a system of checks and balances; to prevent one branch from taking over, their decisions are reviewed and controlled in some manner by one of the other branches).

My suggestion would be to let this group MEET as much as they want. To let this group gather up and DISCUSS as much as they feel they need to discuss. The part to step in at, to me, would be when they reach a “decision”. This decision is the thing that should be reviewed. A group of friends can meet and talk as much as they want; there is no way for a team to try and say “No, you can’t meet and talk anymore because it’s unfair to the other students.” That simply can’t happen. What should happen, is this private group meets and discusses, and then proposes their results to the team for approval of some kind (a student vote, for example), or vice versa (the team meets as a whole, then this private group discusses that (probably more for a dead-lock in design choosing)).

This is just my humble opinion. It just doesn’t seem fair to try and stop a private group of kids from talking, but it also doesn’t seem fair to ban them from meeting. It’s actually not a bad idea, so long as it’s regulated in a way that keeps everything fair and balanced.

I hope this helps!

This is, first and foremost, an issue that needs to be looked at on a team-by-team basis. There is no blanket answer to it; it is based on the character of your team in particular. In my team (and we are a team of 60+), the leadership council (The Board) was abolished a few years ago. What we have now, is an officer system, where the team elects 6 officers: President, Build Team Manager (vice president), Administrator, Treasurer, PR, and Outreach. The President and BTM serve to set a team direction, and organize the team, but try not to make decisions on behalf of the team, unless it is required. For example, all 60 members vote on the strategy and final design of the robot. To counteract ignorance, we try to teach people as much as possible before the season begins. If a quick decision is required (ie, we need to cut weight, and it’s the 6th week of build, it is an executive decision).

If a board was instated on team 639, there would probably be rioting, because people value their right to vote so much, and it really ads to the feeling of it being everyones robot. Do you have something similar on your team, or is it more like 1126’s, where this has always been the status quo?

If you are holding a meting to talk about the situation, THAT is the best thing to do - talk, and listen.

Let everyone who wishes to speak be heard. If there is a feeling of discontent within the seniors, they need to have a time to speak their minds and explain why they want to go in such a specific direction.

In my senior year, myself and other seniors were having big issues with the direction of robot designs the lead mentor insisted we take - and not giving any weight to the student ideas. Together, we seniors took a stand but didn’t make any kind of attack. Instead of being seperate and commandeering the team, our student president of the team asked for a special meeting time for the entire team and the mentors - and in a forum discussion openly expressed our concerns that our designs weren’t being considered or simply accepted as possibilities. After some discussion and debate, enlightening discussion too, we reached a consensus that us kids would rather have a robot that sucks and we designed than one that rocks and was pieced together by an adult. So the lead mentor put aside his eagerness to have a good robot. (we ended up being 6th seed at a regional that year, our team’s highest seed ever and since. Pretty good for a ‘lousy’ robot.)

Things you should note when going about this, is to remind everyone about the priorities of FIRST. If you have a FIRST team, everyone should hold some FIRST values - and its easy to lose sight. You could find some of the answers for your team in them.

One thing that might help is to find out what problem this group is trying to solve.

Just like in building a robot, you must first identify the problem. Once that’s done, there can be several ways to solve the problem, some clearly better than others.

If the solution will cause new problems, perhaps a different solution can be crafted to avoid both the old and new problems.

(Approach it like an engineering challenge and keep emotion out of it, because an emotional argument cannot be won.)

With no disrespect intended to you guys, we find that involving the entire team in everything is time consuming and sometimes ineffective, I am amazed that you guys can work it out with 60+ students. Instead, we have sub-teams or committes formed that do most of the discussion and then present to the team. These subteams and committes (non-build season ones) are usually formed by students and our student leadership team.

For example: This year, we are trying to increase our number of fundraisers. The entire team is welcome to suggest ideas, and then a small group of people who have volunteered will discuss the list and determine which ones we think will be the best for our team. Then, we take the ideas, present them back to the team and get students involved in organizing and participating in the fundraiser. We feel that this method is more effective but still incorporates the input of the whole team.

A similar situation is used post-kickoff in selecting strategy. The whole team discusses on the first day, then the strategy team (mentioned in prior comment) goes through ideas and such to come up with what we think is best. This idea then goes the whole team and we figure out what needs to happen afterwards.

In essence: try to get everyone involved, but remember that smaller groups can be valuble. Just try not to make the small groups seem “exclusive”

I agree with this 100%

We had a small team like this on 11 as well, the Student Core Engineering Team. It is like a senior design team. There is no reason to be against it if it is run properly.

The captains on our team are nominated by the team, including input from adults, then voted on by the members. Under the revised bylaws, it is under the understanding that the captains will make certain, department-specific decisions for the team (i.e. we aren’t going to have a general team meeting on what to do at the team meetings; that is silly) and will, in collaboration with the build mentors and appointed students, will make a core design team. The designs for the robot will be finalized like officers. Designs are presented at meetings for feedback, then nominated to the core designers group, then voted on by the group for the team to implement. This avoids wishy-washy decision making that has plagued us in the past.

Do you have a set of by-laws they are supposed to follow? What kinds of decisions are they making?