I hope you will bear with me as I write this post. One of the things that I am left with after every season is one-million ideas that seem to coalesce better when written and discussed than when just left in my own notebook and mind.
I’ve been pondering how best to manage our team. A bit of background - we are a team that is comprised of a small active core, a bit larger group of median participants and a small outlying group of students who are present but not participatory. The core team is well supported by our lead technical mentor and generally are the ones who complete the entire robot save for some small engagement by the median group. The core can in some ways be arrogant and in other ways be exclusive with the idea that their ability to be part of the core is something that everyone has. This ability is based on one of four things.
The core member refuses not to be part of the core. They place themselves in every situation possible to be engaged - even if they seem at times to be ignored by a mentor or a group working on a part of the robot.
The core member works outside of the normal parameters. If not employed by our lead technical mentor, this member will find a job to do. This may be something as simple as checking the tension of screws or developing new designs.
The core member finds one specific area to become expert in and takes over that area. For example - a student who chooses to learn programming and becomes so adept that they become the lead programmer.
The core member is friends with one of the above three and become attached by way of that friendship.
Because of their involvement, the core often becomes the driving force and more an exclusionary force because the Lead Mentor comes to rely on them and will go to them first in regards to every project. This can cause problems with the median group who want to be engaged in the process but because of circumstance, personality, or lack of knowledge are not sure how to become involved.
In regards to the median students: Many of them want to be connected and involved but are unsure of how to approach and work with the core - or they would rather do other more artistic projects that can be lost in the shuffle especially during build season. I have some very strong median students who - for reason of time, work, or simple transportation cannot be as strong a part as others.
Finally I have the outliers. Some of these outliers are this way because they are new and unsure. Many are simply involved because they want to belong somewhere but are not necessarily committed to the vision of the team. Others are outliers because a developmental difficulty prevents them from being active. Often, one competition is enough to move someone from this category to the median category.
In the end it seems that the most pivotal category out of these three is my median students. With this in mind I am working on developing a team organization that connects both the core and the outliers with the median infrastructure while trying to integrate more median members with the core and more outliers with the median.
My idea centers largely on project leadership and management. My goal is to separate out every major idea that a member of our team develops into a project. This may be as simple as organize a robotics demonstration to a local children’s hospital or as complex as building the robot for build season or organizing an Autism Awareness Day.
Every project will have a project team that will be assigned a project leader and will have a sign up list with students who choose to be involved. Every team will establish its own meeting times, develop an project management chart (PERT or GANT), and role assignments. At the end of each project, the team will have to host a summary meeting with a mentor to discuss what went well or not so well. A successful project will earn a project leader 2% off of travel expenses for the competition and a project member 1% off of travel expenses.
The project leader will be considered successful if he or she directs the other team members well - not if he or she completes the project. The project members will be rated based on how well they have engaged and completed their required tasks. It is my hope that project leaders who have a track record of leading successful projects will be asked to lead more projects and project members who have a track record of completing tasks will be asked to become project leaders.
Within this structure, you may have multiple projects for a larger overall project. For example - you may have a project leader that is over building the practice robot. Within this project you will have other leaders over sub-projects.
My hope is that by establishing this structure I can begin to teach students how to manage themselves and others. Further, by including the extrinsic motivation of the percentages off of travel I hope to encourage members to move further up the chain.
Please comment and help me hash this out.