TEAM IS IMPLOIDING!!!

There’s no subtle way to says this so I will come right out and say it, my team has lost sight or what FIRST and FRC is all about. To give you a sense of what has happened I first must give a brief five year history.

The last five years of the team, since 2011, our team has faced more than its fair share of obstacles and challenges both financially, mentor wise, student wise and leadership wise. The team essential reset and went from a promenet figure in the area to a struggling debt ridden she’ll of its former self. Loosing all of the talented studenting a mass exodus of seniors. Leaving very few students almost all freashmen and sophomores behind.

2012, new coach, sets president for a team with minimal mentors involvement.

Fast forward to 2014, our teams has gotten out of debt and made it to worlds for the first time in years. Setting a false sense of ability for all of the freashman. Team puts vaule in growing size.

2015 we are in the middle of switching coaches and end up making a mediocre robot and winning no awards for the first time in living memory. Design team is and robot is CADed for the first time since 2010. Design team ends up being two students. Team continues growing.

TL;DR
This brings me to now, our team has about 50 students with about 60% being freashmen, the new coach believes that everything should be the whole teams voted desicion. All the current students are unskil due to lack of mentor involvement over the last four years. The teams captains habe been elected by popular vote and they can not lead.

At this point the team has expanded for 7 in 2011 to >50 students, but has had no real ability to train them. The coach and the principal will not listen or make action to improve the team. At the same when ever one of the few self taught first loving students try to work one design so far we have been reliving the first 2 days of buildseason ground hogs style, more or less. Mentors are not guiding or they are making things worse buy letting outlandish idea like a flying robot are being considered for real.

I am at a loose for what to do. No one is acting to fix the disconnect frim FIRST’s mission and put the team back on track. Who do I contact? The FIST vista? The head mentor oe the region? I need help.

I love first too much to see my team disconnect form the great program FRC is, yest at the same time it gust to stay. What do I need to do to start the team back in the right direction?

This is probably a problem that plagues many teams, not just yours. I see you’re posting from an anonymous/alternate account and I can understand why.

Maybe it’s time for YOU to step up and take a leadership position. If you feel as though nobody is doing anything to help, why don’t you try and get help?

I am not one for disrespect of mentors. Mentors don’t like that and that gives them points on NOT to come back. But you do need to tell them in whatever way is polite yet firm that they need to actually guide the students and not let them loose.

I can understand why the coach would leave it up to majority vote. It’s the democratic thing to do. However, the issue is exactly what you’re experiencing. Team captains not being able to lead is very annoying, I can assure you, but the best thing you can do is teach them to lead, either through yourself or through other means.

When you say “can not lead” do you mean they don’t know how to lead or they don’t know what they’re doing? Because those are two very different things. If they know what they’re doing but don’t know how to lead, you or a mentor needs to show them.

As for the emphasis on growing size, maybe you can keep that. FIRST should be available to everybody, but maybe you should make your recruiting week much more… rigorous. To sift out all the “weak ones” and keep those who actually seem to have initiative.

I’m not sure on who you need to contact, but if you can’t figure it out?
Let the program run itself into the ground this year. Remind/Tell the coach about the rich history of your team, all the awards that it has won, etc ASAP. Tell him/her that this team had such an amazing run, and remind him of 2015 and how not a single award was won. Remind the coach that the design team is diminishing. Hell, make a list of everything that you’re seeing wrong with the team, bring it up to the coach, and keep reminding him/her. If it doesn’t get through to them, let the program crumble. If the coach doesn’t believe/care, then they will soon see the magnitude of the problem if it truly is as problematic as you say it is. They will see it as soon as competition comes around. I wouldn’t say rub it in their face that you were correct, but you should definitely bring up that you were correct (politely, of course).

Also, look for more mentors. I know it’s hard, but they’re out there. You have an almost limitless amount of resources available at your fingertips. If you can bring new mentors in, it will either phase out the old “non-helpful” mentors or inspire them to actually be mentors again, and having adults in the program will definitely help bring the program back on track as students tend to listen to adults more than other students sometimes.

Interesting. Sounds like a team in our local group of teams. I agree that there should be adult mentors to lead the teams and keep things on track. Our team tried student leaders last season and we had more problems than solutions. Now we have a lead mentor/coach and two sub team coaches (of which I am one) and several mentors.

The biggest problem I have seen is that students don’t STUDY the printed materials and WATCH related videos like they should. In short, they are being kids, being lazy, and they need to be prodded, encouraged and inspired.

For your situation I would advise that you do what YOU can to inspire your teamates. LEAD BY EXAMPLE! Make something cool, say, a mechanism prototype for the robot. Do it on your own and don’t wait for help. Then, when it is ready, show it off. If you really put some effort into it it should be awesome and inspire your teammates to do the same.

I hope things get better with your team and you have a great season. Take care!

What is the mission of FIRST? It is to inspire, not to make it to the championship.

So, you seem to have the situation of a rookie team. So you do not win. So what? If kids are being inspired, and come back next year, hopefully they have learned how to better build a robot.

If you have ideas on how the team can progress faster, then privately talk to a mentor, or whoever seems to be leading. Maybe they are clueless and would appreciate your thoughts.

BTW: I think major decisions can be by concensus, but a lot of what happens in week 1 is prototyping. Small teams go build their mousetrap to see if it works, and is worthy of making the competition bot.

I’ve seen many veteran teams have a “second rookie year” at one point or another. Either they have a large batch of seniors graduate, preceded by poor recruitment, or they lose one or more critical mentors… Regardless of how it happens, it can be tough to go from a strong team to a poor performance year. And it can be hard for a single student to fix if the mentors aren’t on board.

Now, there’s no single right way to design and build a robot. Every team does it differently. Up until this year, all major design decisions for my team were made by popular vote. That didn’t really work out last year, so our student leadership decided to make a change and design with a 5 person design team this year. It would be very easy for someone not on the design team to come up with complaints very similar to yours - “a strong team that won awards and performed well every year of its existence suddenly did horribly last year and didn’t win a single award. Now most of the team is being shut out of the design process…”. But that perspective doesn’t really represent the good progress we’ve seen from the team this year to bounce back from last year.

Instead of focusing on what’s changed, focus on what needs to happe:. A design needs to be chosen and you need to start building. Approach the team leadership (preferably with a strong group of like-minded individuals behind you" and express your concern and desire for things to work out. Ask them to simply set a decision deadline so you can start building. That’s all, a nice simple request. You aren’t asking for your design to be chosen, you aren’t asking to change the way things are being run - asking for either of those can appear as a challenge to someone’s leadership and make them reluctant to listen to you.

Finally, there are resources in your area. Talk to your senior mentor or regional director, they may be able to provide some help. If you need to, go to your principal and express your concerns, the school administration may be able to help get your mentor base on track.

Funny thing is when I try to lead by example everyone gets salty and starts thinking that we are ripping the team apart.

I run a very large team (typically about 100 students)… A few insights:

  • As soon as the focus becomes “winning,” we become miserable. When this becomes our focus, every single decision becomes more intense. Large numbers of students and mentors become attached to their “best” idea and it becomes extremely difficult to compromise on designs - or even hear one another out. We focus on Gracious Professionalism and working together. When this is the focus, it is much easier for a person to let go of their own “brilliant” idea and settle for something s/he considers “second best” when others believe it to be the “best.”

  • Kids cannot hold all the decision-making power. Let’s face it: They are students and simply do not have the engineering knowledge and skills as our professional mentors. Students must have the humility to really listen to those with knowledge.

  • Mentors cannot hold all the power, either. This is a kids’ game and the kids need to play… to have them sit back and watch while the mentors do all the thinking, strategizing, building, etc. undermines the purpose of FIRST and takes nearly everything away from the kids’ experience.

  • There must be a balance of power between kids and mentors - and that balance changes annually. Some years, we are lucky enough to have a strong core of 4th year students who can take over much of the responsibility. Other years, we have a lot of younger, inexperienced students and the mentors must have a stronger hand in leadership. No matter what the balance in any given year, the kids must have room to take a strong level of responsibility and make mistakes. If mentors always bail them out, the kids won’t learn. Winning must be secondary. At the same time, when the kids excel, they should be rewarded with a strong robot. Our team wants to go to St. Louis every year and make a strong showing. However, as mentors, we are only going to make sure that the kids are going to have a robot that has a strong competitive shot at making to the PNW championships. If we are going to actually make it that far - or having a good showing and make it further, it’s up to the kids to make it happen - and up to the mentors to point the way.

  • We have found that decisions cannot be a straight-up vote with all the members. Annually, the largest group of kdis we have are first-year FIRSTers - freshmen. To leave major robot decisions up to them would be akin to Boeing leaving design decisions for their newest airplane up to interns. It’s not going to happen. However, with a large team it is imperative that we give every member a voice. We then have a much smaller student/mentor group driving the decision-making process. When their is not a clear general consensus, we have a very small group of experienced students making the final call. We also emphasize Gracious Professionalism in that process - we know that not everybody can possibly get their way, so we really emphasize how to handle things when a decision goes the “wrong” way.

  • Running an FRC team - from the mentor side - is very difficult and very time-consuming (especially if we are going to push the kids to have a strong level of leadership). Literally, the more “power” you allow the kids to have, the more difficult it is to run the team. It’s much easier to be a dictator.

  • Changing adult leadership can be brutal for a team - especially if the “top dog” doesn’t know much about the program and doesn’t have strong support from more experienced mentors. Often, the top dog needs help, but does not realize it. I would suggest sitting down with the mentor and learning how s/he sees FIRST and how s/he would like to see the season unfold. Then, graciously and professionally, ask about differences that are important to you… Generally, there is somebody in FRC in your district or region who could be a resource for that person - either a district director or a team with more experienced mentors. For instance, our team often reaches out to other nearby teams when they have instability in their adult leadership or are simply a younger (rookie?) team, just to see if we can help them get through just this sort of situation.

  • Whatever you do, remain Gracious and Professional - without being preachy! (Okay, I struggle with this part sometimes). Even if you completely disagree with where the lead mentor is taking the team, remember that s/he would not be doing it if s/he did not legitimately care and that s/he is putting in a huge amount of personal time - often at the expense of career and family.

QFT.

Sounds like a healthy growing team to me. No signs of implosion anywhere.

I was a student on a team where students ran the team, and became a mentor of a team where adults take care of all the legal/prep work and train students.

The only thing I see wrong (and the only thing you should have any beef about) is that the mentors maybe aren’t as hands on as you/I’d like them to be. Oh well. Graduate, become a mentor, run a team like you thing it should be ran. Each coaching staff has a unique way of running a team that not everyone might agree with. It’s not a paid position. Mentors are 100% voluntary. Deal.

If you want to hear about a team actually imploding, a friend of mine was on a 20+ student team that ceased to exist because the lead teacher, the lead engineer, and the lead student couldn’t agree on something and they all quit. No names.

You described a situation that defies being summed up in a sound bite, and you described it from your personal viewpoint. Answers aren’t going to be silver bullets. I can’t think of any one or two people (with magic wands) that you should call.

Within the FRC team, I suggest asking the team to volunteer to get together after this season to spend some time reviewing the FRC program’s purpose, reviewing organizations your team might want to emulate, and setting simple goals for the next year. The goals should not over-emphasize the robot.

For this year, I recommend starting an FTC or VRC team(s) (it’s late, but not too late). This/these do not have to be affiliated with your current FRC team. Their purpose is to build a foundation of students, adults, and organizational abilities able to make an FRC team successful. Attempting to squeeze dozens of students into a single FRC team might not be appropriate for your location right now. In your location and everywhere else, student STEM Robotics is not owned by any single program, mentor, student group, school, or other entity.

In general, consult with the people who need your help, pick a good path to take, and then deliver on your commitments. Do that well and often, and folks should notice. Once they notice, you become able to influence plans and solutions.

Blake

Then try a different approach. Don’t think of yourself as a leader but as a servant. Avoid arguing and finger pointing. Be the worker your team needs. Train the rookies on the building of the robot and the team, not as a subverter of the leadership, but as a supporter.

Keep arguing with the mentors/coach and then you can have all these problems again next year with your new mentors/coach.

So your team didn’t win an award or a regional. The majority of teams don’t. Did everybody learn? Did we work together? Is everyone better prepared then we were before build season to not only build robots, but to grow into successful individuals?

This is a learning experience. Good Luck.

Well said.

When we started our team I had a lot to say. By golly, we were going to do things right. I had read a bunch of threads on Chief Delphi, got a lot of good advice, threw in a bunch of personal experience - boy, I knew exactly how we were going to run this team.

Well, it turns out, so did a bunch of other mentors. We have folks representing past experiences on probably 8 different FRC teams. Everyone’s used to doing it one way, and everyone’s used to that being the correct way. Everyone came in with different ideas and everyone’s idea was different.

And you can see that as either extremely frustrating or see that as a beautiful thing. The latter does take some conscious choice.

There is not only one way to do this. My way is not the only way. The flipside to this is convincing mentor Bob that Bob’s way is not the only way, telling senior student Joe that Joe’s way is not the only way, getting folks to understand that Other_Amazing_Team’s way is not the only way.

I will go on the record as saying that understanding this is a hugely important life lesson. (I will not, officially, go on the record as saying that I know some adults that still need to learn this lesson… :stuck_out_tongue: )

The way will also change over time. The right path for my team this year might not be the right path for us next year. How will we know? I have no idea yet :stuck_out_tongue: But I’ll re-quote the questions above, because I think they’re the most important:

This is also well said. Open-mindedness can go a LONG way to improving relationship on a team.

I think that you need to set a new president in the team. When a team imploids, they don’t just loose a team, the loose a hobby. Stay strong my friend.

Maybe you can describe what you think FIRST and FRC is all about. We can’t tell if the team has lost sight of something, or has changed to seeing it differently.

2015 we are in the middle of switching coaches and end up making a mediocre robot and winning no awards for the first time in living memory.

You just described about half the FRC teams in existence.

Yes teams would like to build better robots. Yes teams would like to have killer mentors and vast finances. Yes teams would like to get awards. But are bigger goals being met? Are more people being exposed to and inspired by STEM? Are people learning things they wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to do?

I can understand your frustration if the team isn’t doing what they did back during what you consider the heyday. Maybe you can give the new team members that vision. But if values greater than winning are being accomplished, maybe that’s what your team is meant to do right now.