Team Culture Towards Nontechnical vs Technical

Our team is pretty big so we have a fairly active technical (build, electrical, programming) and nontechnical (fundraising, outreach, etc.) side. I’ve noticed some interesting team culture patterns in our team, with technical work being regarded more highly, given more respect, and having more people proportionate to the work load. Is this something you’ve seen on your team at all?

Additionally, how is your nontechnical side structured overall? Are there specific ways members are encouraged to join the nontechnical side? If it’s required that all members participate fully in both sides, how do you ensure that quality of work/membership does not suffer? Have you noticed any gender disparities between technical and nontechnical? If so, are there are any causes you can point to, and how are you minimizing this (if at all)? Any insight you have on any of these things would be much appreciated!

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Our team experienced a similar situation with our nontechnical/business team, and I’ll share our experience overcoming it.
Our team isn’t very large (20-30ish members). In the past, we’ve only had a few students each year who focused on doing nontechnical work. These students tended to have joined robotics because their friends or family were in it, rather than being interested in robotics to begin with*. This was also coupled with these students working in a computer lab with the programmers that was far away from the shop and practice field. This meant that most of the technical members rarely saw these students, and I believe it resulted in a disconnect and lack of respect for the nontechnical students.

These past two years have seen quite a bit of improvement. We have had a parent that understands how to run a business step up and mentor the nontechnical side, which made the business team feel and be seen as a legitimate part of the team. We also got access to a computer lab that is very near to our build space, and we start all of our meetings there. This means that the technical and nontechnical team members interact with each other more and build better chemistry.

We’ve also started celebrating the business team. When a group of students gives a presentation to a local business, they get to tell the team how it went. They get to announce that the business decided to sponsor the team. If a student or two sets up a fundraiser for tools or parts, the entire team knows that they are the ones responsible for it. A great example of this was when a couple of students set up a Donors’ Choose for NEOs and Spark MAXs (something that the team couldn’t afford on our own). At our competition, we failed inspection because the backend of a CIM motor was barely outside the frame. We were able to replace it with a NEO that we had thanks to those students and were able to compete with our climbing mechanism still functional. Those students had saved the day and were recognized for it.

TLDR: To improve team culture, increase interaction between technical and nontechnical students, and celebrate the nontechnical students for all they do for the team. Legitimize the nontechnical students and the role they play on the team.

*They of course fell in love with it as we all did.

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This isn’t true for all teams, but from what I’ve noticed, smaller teams value technical people more.

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I coach 2 small teams 12 kids ish each. I value highly motivated students with a drive to figure things out themselves.
3134 female, is generally more non technical, but that is changing fast and are close to equal to the boys. But they also do a chairman’s (the boys do not) and are far more organized. This shows in their team. They have won GP WFFA applied for dean’s list.
3275 male has been almost a strictly technical team. Not because of me but that is their interest.
Many of our students have at least some hand in building the not.
FIRST robotics naturally attracts students interested in robots. Building and programming them.
It is harder to attract students who may be interested in a non robot faction of the team.
On many teams the robot is kinda a priority, so having as strong as a technical team as you can is important.

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To help increase the prestige, standing and respect for the non-technical folks, be certain to announce and celebrate their successes, with a sincere statement on how this helps the team.

For example, getting a $500 sponsorship allows the team to buy a second RoboRIO, allowing a practice bot to be built.
Or, we are grateful to ‘92 threads’ for donating the team’s T-shorts this year, and this happened because of the hard work and persistence of Charles and Rita.

As once said by some famous guy*, “you get what you reward”.

*Look it up.

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There are a couple different perspectives I can see for the technical vs nontechnical disparity, and they mostly boil down to existing resources that a team has. The more established a team, the smaller the disparity.

When a team has just started or is going through a rough patch, the nontechnical should generally be focused on supporting the technical side with money/sponsors/mentors/students such that a robot is able to be built. Generally taking the form of outreach events to get sponsors interested and drive membership. At this stage, I often see the parents of students on the team taking the lead with 1 or 2 students assisting them.

When a team has a sustainable income and enough students to design and create the robot without much worry/difficulty on running out of money to fund the team, then it is time they encourage students to branch out into creating a proper business plan or chairman’s. This means the team also needs to start recruiting a different kind of student. Instead of just focusing on the students with interests in engineering, the team needs to start turning slightly towards students that are interested in businesses, like DECA members. At this point it is possible to convince some business oriented students to come support the robotics team under the guidance of the mentors that have been doing the business side themselves until this point. From my experience teams are generally around 20-30 students at this point.

When a team has a good amount of sustained resources and the student membership starts to expand, then the team has entered into a new stage where the goal should be to create a good robot, while also winning awards regularly at events. This means bringing in more nontechnical students to sustain a photo/video team, business students to maintain sponsorship relations and create the business plan, chairman’s team for the work that goes into presenting for that award, etc. At this point the robotics team is running like a small business/charity and all members are given jobs to accomplish. Students are able to select which portion of the team they want to help with and shift from one job to another as their interests change. There should not be a lack of support for any single job.

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It’s worth having a discussion with all team members about how businesses / start-ups / life depend upon skills and contributions in all of these areas. Point out that successful organizations have built (and/or been built from) strength on both sides, and there are many cases where really promising organizations that lacked on one side or the other have failed to come anywhere near their potential. It’s also a good time to talk about team culture, communications, etc.

Basically, someone needs to think of all of this as part of the mission of building kids through robotics and take the time and make the effort to focus in these areas. If the mentors/parents don’t have both sides of things covered, opportunities will be missed. Many mentors are pretty focused on one side or the other, so having a team of mentors can really help here.

A decent amount of the members on my team are extremely exclusionary and disrespectful towards other members regardless of their Subteam Affiliation. I would consider myself a decently knowledgeable person on Engineering/Electronics (especially compared to the others on my team) but after my Electrical Lead Position was phased out after our Rookie Year, potentially because the Mentors didn’t like me, I noticed that I wasn’t really included in a decent amount of the building process. Sadly, I had been telling the entire team that our shooter needed significantly more compression (it had virtually none at all) but they wouldn’t listen to me. Eventually, during our Competition, I just stormed the Pit and decided to make some modifications to the hood and we finally were able to score. Overall, our Team Culture is absolutely terrible and is probably the reason why our Mentors have been AWOL after they opted us out of this season even though we need to fundraise. I could keep ranting, but I’ll stop here!