Team Governance

Dear FIRST/CD Community,

Our team is wrapping up our first year, and we’ve had some great successes. Our robot, while not being the superstar that we would’ve liked (it never is), was quite successful. We won the rookie all-star award at Annapolis. I’m saying this not to brag, but to give some idea of what our current background is.

However, we have run into uncertainties about who exactly should be running our team - who should be making decisions such as who does programming, who is the driver, and what versions of code to load onto the robot.

Our setup this year has been essentially to have adult mentors (namely our Project Manager) making all of the important decisions, including whether our robot would be a corner scorer or a high shooter. Our Project Manager has had final say in who works on what and what changes (if any) were made to the robot. Sometimes his decisions have been in conflict with what a significant portion of the students wanted, but most of the time everyone has agreed. One issue that we had was that this wasn’t really spelled out in our team handbook.

We’re planning to hit the ground running after Atlanta and come up with a plan to organize our team that is clear to everyone and hopefully workable for all concerned.

What I wanted to do in the meantime is to ask you guys how your teams are run. How does the broader FIRST community handle issues of team governance and how would you like it handled?

I encourage everyone to respond not only by answering the poll but by responding in this thread.

Thanks,
Paul Dennis
Team 1719

Lots of information on this in the Team Organization forum posts.

Thanks, Kathie. I’ll check that out.

I’d also appreciate comments from people on my polling method. Do I seem like I’m pushing an issue (i.e. trying to get people to vote one way or another)? PM me or just post here.

Paul Dennis

Paul,

Each team has it’s own organization or lack there of. The goal is to find what works best for your team. If you are trying to find the “right” answer, there is none. I would recommend having your team put together a feedback form for the students and adults on what they think worked (or didn’t). This can be used to make improvements for next year.

You are right in that whatever organizational structure you want to use, the team should make sure to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team member in the handbook. At least then everyone knows what to expect.

If you need any help with this, feel free to PM me and we’ll talk further.

Paul,

Each FIRST team is different which means that each one is run differently. Teams have to find the organizational method that is right for them, whether it be Mentor run or Student run. (I know this my anger some people but I have to say it) While all the teams strive to meet the goal of inspiring students some do this by building a dominate robot to win while others may focus on community outreach and still others try to inspire by letting the students take the lead and learn from their mistakes, and some do all three and more theres unlimited ways to inspire. It really depends on how you can best meet your teams needs & goals.

Now for my personal opinion:
I think that the students should play the major role in designing and building the robot, but there still needs to be a strong adult presence. Every student should be allowed to come up with a design concept and present it to the team, then the team as a whole discuss all the designs then picks one to go with based on previously decided criteria. Discussion is where you need a single leader to step up and lead them unbiased because other wise chaos will break out. As for some of the other aspects of team running, competitions, style, travel, that stuff should be handled by team leaders. Competitions: team leaders should give the students a list of regionals that they find fit for the team to attend (whether it b distance, location, etc.) then let the students pick the regional or regionals they want to go to. Travel: travel should be handled by an adult leader from what I’ve seen students aren’t to particular as to mode of transportation.
Bottom line involve the students and they may very well surprise you with how much they know.

Hi,

I dont know about other teams, but i speak from personal experience:

At begining, most teams will be mentor run because only few students will have much prior knowledge. As time goes on “rising students” will have input in team management and in some cases the team will be high student controlled. The other side of this will be that the team conitnues to have a lot of mentors, which will mostly result in a mentor controlled team. Teams are unique, hence so is thier management. In my personal opinion, both students and mentors have to be in the “loop”. But mentors should have the ultimate say in some matters, such as money, safety, travel e.t.c. Everything else should have input from both entities, and most FIRST teams do incorporate this type of situation. A stable mentor base is necessary in order to maintain a team through rebuilding phases.

Paul,

My team (857) is run by multiple college students and high school students. We try to make it as “student run” as possible, but college students - our only mentors - take care of the financial stuff, travel arrangements, meeting times, etc.

This is a tricky subject because there is no right or wrong answer on how to run a team. There may be “better” or “worse” ways to run a team, but it really depends on the participation of all involved.

When I started on my high school team, it was very student-run. But then those students graduated and there weren’t enough people to step up and fill their shoes. So the adult leaders of the team stepped in and helped us. They didn’t take over, but their increased participation allowed has the team to flourish. :slight_smile:

Paul,

First, your survey is a bit of “apples and oranges” in that the questions sometimes can be “additive”…But that’s OK, it gets the issue and question on the table.

Congrats on winning the rookie all-star award; some thoughts:
a) check out the NEMO organization and their topics on “mentor burn-out” and “student burn-out”. Subjects you’ll want to closely watch in future years.
b) develop a team structure centered around the TASKS, not the PEOPLE. Set-up sub-teams with task lists and let people choose the tasks they want to work on during build season as well as year-round. Be sure that everyone works on a sub-team and that no student works on more than 2-3 subteams. Also, be sure that both male and female students don’t get pigeon-holed into subteams (e.g. girls on spirit, boys on drive train)
c) At any given all-team meeting, make sure that you mentors feel empowered to put all the students to work; not just defer to your lead mentor.
d) Clearly differentiate between “mentors” and “chaperones” including all school-based legal ramifications of club field trips!
e) Once build season kicks-off, the students MUST be the owners of the design by consensus and brainstorming, but the mentors will inevitably have a big role in the execution of the design, etc. Strive for 100% student ownership (succeed or fail…)

Jeez, I think I learnred all of this in less than two years from Kim O’Toole…FIRST must be rubbing-off on me.

This is a great process for all teams to follow. Check out this white paper - end of year evaluation form for an idea of something you could use.

Great idea Kathi!

Jon

Ours is mostly run by two adults, but one of them has a bit more power since she founded the team. I’m technically team captain, but there isn’t a clearly defined power structure on my team, and we’re a bit to ingrained in our ways to change it. I’d say, give the students more control, since that’s who FIRST was founded for. Sorry, i would write more, but I’ve gotta go help my Grandma in her war with the local deer.

It also helps to have a good way to communicate your structure to all the members (adult and student). Joe layed out our team darn well up above. I think part of that is the fact that the student leaders and mentors spend ALOT of time after meetings talking over topics of concern. Our team hit it’s stride last year, and it continued into this year. It only took us 4-5 years to work out the big kinks.

I think (I hope) that the mentors on our team are layed back enough so that the students feel free to talk over any concerns that they might have. During our design phase, the students didn’t agree with the mentors, the mentors didn’t agree with the mentors, and we all spent a day or two “talking agressively” - that says to me the students don’t feel over powered by the mentors. It was a good thing. I hope everyone’s teams, no matter how they are set up, can have the free-flowing communications that we hope to have (even when it includes yelling, kicking, and screaming.)

Besides, the students out number the mentors 20 to 1, so we have to fear our student overlords.

Paul,
as has been said above, there is no blueprint for how a team is structured. It is whatever works best for the majority and/or the team founders and/or the team sponsors (there are probably about 100 more factors that come into play) Many teams go through evolutions, and change based on the players, finances, outside demands. Sometimes these issues are so big, that teams drop out, or split up, or change course.

The important part is that the expectations are clear to all involved. Having a mission statement, team handbook and a contract can really help because there it is in black and white. I also like Kathie’s exit interviews.

There is a reason everyone has to have a rookie year. There is only so much that can be explained ahead of time.

Keep in touch.

Team 818 has a rather strict structure (unless we break it which doesn’t happen often). We have our Lead Mentor, Sub-Team Mentors, Fundraising Mentors.

I’ll type the rest tommorrow as i have to go!!!

Tomasz Bania

My wife and I are the head mentors of our team. I know one of the things that has concerned us a bit is not wanting to look like the deepest pockets around should something happen. For that and other reasons, we won’t be listed as chaperones if the team goes on the road. We even try to stay at a different hotel. :smiley: Besides, mentoring is more than enough effort, baby sitting a group of teenagers away from home is murder. Let the parents handle it.

e) Once build season kicks-off, the students MUST be the owners of the design by consensus and brainstorming, but the mentors will inevitably have a big role in the execution of the design, etc. Strive for 100% student ownership (succeed or fail…)

We push the students to come of with a design but we tend to push them to keep it toward something that is actually achievable. If the students earned all or most of the money themselves, I’d be fine with letting them take all responsibility and if it totally failed, then it’s their learning experience. However, if most of the money comes from sponsors, I have a bit of a problem letting them charge off a cliff with it.

Very good point I feel the students should have control of the robot design but the mentors need to act a guardrail against designs that are way beyond their teams capabilities, some teams (mine included) just don’t have access to a fancy machine shop, but then everyone should be open to pushing your limits and leaving your comfort zone to meet the game challenges. This year my team stayed in our comfort zone in regards to out drive train (KOP 4W wide set up) It came down to deciding between that and a KOP 6W narrow and we chose the 4W wide set up because we hadn’t done 6W before (even though the KOP frame is designed to easily support it. So the moral don’t be afraid to try something new but know your max limits.

Team governance has to be the single thing my team has had more trouble with than all our other troubles combined. After our 6th year we still don’t have a really good system in place, it seems to change every year or two.

From my team’s experience, this is my biggest piece of advice; do not leave all the leadership and knowledge on how to do what in the hands of one or two people, whether they be mentors or students. You can never be sure how long a person will be involved with the club or how well they will live up to their job. We have had 3 different teacher sponsors over the years because they’ve all left for various reasons (most not by choice), and we will have a new 4th one next year. In addition we’ve had 2 different years where student Presidents have failed to do their job, and the mentors and other officers have had to step up and replace them. Luckily we’ve always had a group of students and mentors in charge so the loss of a single leader has not completely destroyed the team, though it can frustrate things.

I’m hoping to keep having a group in charge (currently we have 5 student officers, a main teacher sponsor, and a main engineering mentor). I recommend trying to have various experience levels for students (more than just seniors) in charge, because it is quite a pain to have “rollover” years where all the former officers leave. In my opinion, your students should also always be able to communicate equally with mentors and teachers, with students getting the final say in most robot and event manners while adults have the last word when it comes to travel and finances.

YES! I am a MENTOR. Not a chaperone. I am busy all day, I don’t want to deal with the stupidity that may or may not go on at night. I’m flying to Atlanta, and the students are going by bus. Besides, I might see something as a cool physics experiment, where a chaperone might see someone dropping pop cans down the stair wells.

Which brings me to another point. We have a great group of parents that formed a Booster Club for the team. They call themselves the RPMs. Robotics Parents and Mentors. (Cute, huh?) They help out a huge amount. I don’t even like thinking about the days before they came to be.

However you organize, a strong parents group is always a good addition. Our’s helps with food, travel, fundraising, dues, overall organization, and I think it helps all parents feel more comfortable handing over their kids for 6 weeks to a small group of “crazy” engineers with power tools.

That’s funny because our parent mentors call themselves Raider Parent Mentors(RPM). The parents are our strongest supporters because they see their kids life change right in their face.

Every team works in a slightly different fashion. Further more there are many many ways to operate. There is no ‘right way’ or ‘target model’ everyone should follow. However, I feel teams should be organized like the (ideal) Boy Scout troops: providing leadership opportunities by self governance. While the mentors should have the final say, their purpose is to guide the students. Fundamentally, the students should be creating the robot they want. If students are happy being in the backseat by not being involved in the design or fabrication process, then that is fine. Item number one should always be that they are inspired by the program. How to best inspire is of course subject to debate.