Why Do Teams Succeed

Recently the team was asked to identify why teams fold by our county school board. We asked CD to help us answer their question and we collected a lot of good data. http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?threadid=139082

While we were writing up a blog post (http://team1389.com/why-do-frc-teams-fold/) summarizing everything we had learned about why teams fail, we started to ask ourselves why do teams like 148, 254, 118, 1114 and others achieve such greatness year over year? What are they doing that makes them great?

So we figured we would ask CD to weigh in again. What makes a Team extremely successful? Please pick the top 2 or 3 survey options or add a comment if you have thought on the topic that aren’t captured in the survey. Thanks for your time

I don’t see any choices for preparation or dedication. Those take a team a whole lot further than any of those things listed.
I see alot of teams at alot of competitions both good and bad and what stands out to me is the great teams have a plan and are willing, ready and able to execute it. The bad teams are disorganized and disinterested.

I’d say that Preparation and Dedication earn teams every one of the things listed. Having a few students who are dedicated will inspire mentors to dedicate their time and effort to assist them achieve their goals, and these mentors will in turn inspire more students to be dedicated. Having students and mentors who are willing to learn and work to succeed is what allows them to succeed.

EDIT: Gonna add a bit more to this as I have more time now. One thing I have noticed over the past few years is that the teams that succeed on a large level do is take the competition aspect extremely seriously. As 254 stated (don’t remember where), they (and all these successful teams) strive to be in the top 1% of all FRC teams. These teams work to win, and are driven to do so. This drive is what makes them design, evaluate, and redesign aspects of their robot. As Andrew Lawrence said “The minute you get a functioning mechanism start working on a better one.” Teams who have succeeded in the past (especially this year), lived by this motto, and use it to make themselves better. The second that a “powerhouse team” gets one step ahead of the competition, they immediately focus on taking the next 2 steps, because they know that the teams behind them won’t be behind them for long.

From what I have seen, the mentors and students on “high-quality” teams spend 20+ hours per week, in and out of build season, dedicated to robotics. The “powerhouse” teams have students and mentors who spend 40+ hours per week dedicated to robotics.

Teams that are willing to put in this much effort have almost no difficulty achieving anything/everything on that list.

Culture, leadership, passion.

How do you get those things?

If I had an easy answer to that question, I’d be shouting it from the rooftops.

On culture and leadership:

The best I can do is quote from a private message exchange I had with another mentor the other day:

I know it sounds like a buzzword, but so much of this comes down to team culture. Whenever anyone asks me how 1114 has been able to maintain our consistent level of success, I always say it’s a result of a culture of dedication to success. New members immediately sense the culture and either embrace it and adapt, or slowly lose interest. There isn’t much middle ground. Everyone gives their best effort because no one wants to let anyone down.

Now how does one establish that culture? That’s a really good question that I don’t have a particularly good answer for. I think a lot of it comes down to having strong, charismatic leaders who people gravitate towards. This includes both adult and student leaders. On a lot of FRC teams you get people thrust into leadership roles because of their strong technical abilities, but they lack the ability to motivate people. I think this is where culture building fails.

Or these posts from myself and Mr. Forbes

On passion: Passion can be contagious, when paired with the right culture and leadership.

I understand that these answers might sound like a cop out, but at it’s core the answers are esoteric. For those trying to replicate these cultures that breed success, I think best plan of action is to get people who are passionate about FIRST involved with your team, who also happen to be great leaders. Easier said than done? Yup.

What is success?

Is it a victory on the field? Is it a trophy or banner?

Is it doubling the number of students (compared to the past for the area served by the team) who choose a STEM vocation after grade school?

Is it evolving into a K-12 spectrum of diverse STEM programs that involves 20% of the area’s students, at one time or another, in a non-trivial, out-of-class, STEM activity (biology, meteorology, FLL, VIQ, FTC, VRC, FRC, BEST, AUSV, SeaPerch, Cyber Defense, rocketry/drones, Eco/Solar House, …)?

Is it simply percolating along, annually involving 5% of a school in an inspirational STEM activity, while staying on budget and on schedule?

Is it playing a key role in convincing families and businesses that they want to move into an area because children will get a good education there?

What is success for FRC??? :deadhorse:

What does your School Board think success is?

Is it reminding the community to re-elect the school board, because the board “gets it”? :smiley: :wink:

PS: If it all gets too complicated, just return to the basics. Expose as many students as you can, to fun opportunities, that didn’t exist for them before the team(s) existed.

Sounds like you may be beating your own dead horse here - I think it’s pretty clear what form of success the thread is discussing.

I don’t necessarily agree. I think the OP may be referencing on-field success, but all Blake is pointing out is that success can be defined in many different ways and that focusing on on-field success isn’t always the best option for every team.

I’d also argue that all of the teams the OP listed are perennially successful both on and off the field, and that both are noble goals.

Back to the OP’s question though, there are incredibly successful teams that satisfy a ton of the conditions listed in your poll.
973 has less than 20 students if I recall, while 20 has over 100. Both teams can be said to have had great, incredibly successful seasons the past 4 years.
There are successful teams with a ton of resources and successful teams with significantly less resources. 5254 had an incredibly successful season this past year, and all we have is a chopsaw and the ability to buy VexPro parts, something any team should be able to do.

The ingredients for repeated success is less about the number of students and the amount of resources, but more about the dedication and drive than anything else.
One of the things about 5254 that has made us successful in 2015 is our head mentor, Roy Westwater. He pushes the team like a sports coach. He cares if we win or lose, and he wants every student on the team to feel like that too. He’s established a certain culture in the past two seasons that not only generates success from within, but it also attracts others who have the same kind of drive.

Once a certain culture on a team is established, it’s difficult to change- whether that be for the better or for the worse.

When I joined Team 20 my freshman year of high school in 2011, we were in the midst of a culture change brought about by a long-time mentor leaving the team. Between 2011 and 2013 the team changed dramatically, and you could see the results on the field. In 2011 we were the last overall selection at the BAE Granite State Regional. In 2013 we seeded 1st and 2nd at our regionals, winning one and losing in the finals at the other. That’s the type of culture change that’s difficult to bring about. Our head mentor on Team 20, Rose Barra, was a major catalyst for that change, along with others on 20 that really stepped up and helped put our priorities in line.

This ended up being a fairly long post.
In summary: success can be defined multiple ways, passion and drive do more than anything else to drive success, and culture is hard to change once it’s established.

Maybe I’m thinking more about what a School Board is interested in hearing than the OP was when they wrote their post.

I don’t say that to attack the OP, or their immediate intention, but to instead just get them to think twice about whether they are asking the right question.

School Boards often define success differently than individual teams do…

If the OP isn’t interested in my thoughts, they can easily ignore them.


We are interested in any and every take on the question.

Someday I’d like to visit one of the teams listed, to see if spending time with them would give any extra insight. Until I get that chance, I think I agree with Karthik. What success 1339 has had has been largely due to a passion to see students do well in one of the best experiences available at the high school level. That led (after years of floundering) to finding resources (like CD), and to better organization, and to hard work. The passion has grown and spread since 2012 and we’ve had several good years. Each year we are working harder and earlier in the year, and I fully expect that this year’s crew will have a fantastic season as a result of the time, passion and effort they are putting in right now. I know we aren’t on anyone’s radar, but I’m thrilled with what our team has made possible for our students.

I really, really love talking about this stuff. Mostly I talk about it because I think the more I interact with ideas of being successful (talking about it, working towards it, becoming a victim of its pursuit) the better chance there is that I’ll figure out all the ways to not go about it, find the one that works, and stick with it.

Success, while it presents itself as a linear, upward slope approaching a plateau, functions more like a web. Culture, leadership, and passion definitely are some of the points in the web. Trying to figure out how these things connect to create success is difficult, if not impossible for a lot of reasons. I think the main reason is that these are not the only points in the web.

Raise your hand if there was never a day in your life where you hesitated to do something you love… something you have a passion for. Maybe you don’t want to go to work or school that day. Maybe you’re dreading meeting your girlfriend’s parents or having to get to the airport extra early. In our case here, maybe you really don’t want to stick around after a day of work and/or school to put more work in with your robotics team. I mean, Fallout 4 is pretty great.

If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re human. If you did raise your hand, you’re a liar or you’re not human and you should probably expect the van out in the street is not in fact owned by a flower shop.

Passion is the ignition. Nothing great has ever been achieved without fire, without emotion, without enthusiasm. But the United States didn’t beat the Soviets to the moon just because we wanted it more.

Commitment and discipline are the legs that passion stands on. Very rarely do beginners get faced with a brutal but universal truth: the gap between being a novice and a master is wider than even the master can comprehend. You really want to make great music, open a successful restaurant, or build a team to take on the Einstein field… that’s great! But that first demo, that first dish, or that first robot probably won’t be worthy enough to lick the boots of whatever the master of the craft can make. And that’s hard to deal with. Knowing that despite your passion for something, you still stand a good chance of coming up short more often than not when you first start out. And that’s not just because some snotty dweeb parading around as a critic is going to try to knock you down a peg, but it’s because you’re disappointed in yourself.

You know what a great robot is supposed to look like, don’t you? You know what music you like or what kind of food puts a chef on the map. It’s your passion after all! But maybe you’re not passionate about it… or not passionate enough… and you doubt yourself. You build your team up and up over a series of years, you make one misstep, and you feel like everyone has just witnessed the fraud you really are. Commitment and discipline will pull you up off the mat when the passion is missing and you’re ready to tap out.

You’ve seen people nail down what works for them to turn their passion to success and you wonder when, if ever, you’ll find that special thing that will do the same for you. It may take you 2 seasons. It may take you 10 seasons. But leaving disappointed and broken over something because you think your passion is gone is giving in to the weaker parts of your humanity. We’re meant for more than letting just one hit to the jaw knock us out. You have to know that everyone goes through this. You have to know that you can get through this as well. But you must stand strong in your conviction. Stand up for what you are passionate about; not just against those who say you’re wasting your time or you’re not good enough, but against those same thoughts that creep inside your own brain, searching for whatever cracks in your discipline and commitment they can find and breaking you.

Through discipline, you set deadlines to your work and stick to them. Through commitment, you create a program that works for you and your team given the wealth of available and free resources. Through both of these things you find the strength to slog through a crisis of any and all magnitudes and eventually find success. You create a volume of work to close the gap between yourself and the masters. You build a fortress of confidence to protect yourself from those who try to slow or stop you. You navigate the crucible and become a champion. Through the trials by fire, you create leaders. From these leaders, with these ideas of passion driving commitment and discipline that in turn fuel the passion, you can create a culture that understands how to balance all of that to create success.

I hope.

Oh, hey OP. I guess if I was to adequately answer your question more directly instead of leaving you to infer what’s above, it’s people. Zero dollars in the bank account and zero square feet of work space can easily sink a team, but an FRC team can only be as good as the sum of its individuals. Planting seeds of passion for FIRST and specifically FRC in community members of all ages and backgrounds will create a good team. Finding the right people who have been through the fire and come out a leader for an FRC team is hard because most of them are tied to a blood oath of sorts to the teams that built them, so you’ll have to put new people through the crucible and watch them grow over time.

My first thought on reading OP was to essentially write gblake’s post above. +1!

Also, as I posted earlier this afternoon on the “fold” thread:

We won our first Blue Banner at Bayou this year. I had dyed my beard green, yelled myself hoarse, and was every bit as thrilled as I was when the Pirates won the World Series in 1971 and 1979 or when the Saints won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2008 season, and even more proud as I had helped it happen. However, the real tug on the heartstrings came at the next team meeting. While we knew that we had plenty of work to do, we gave the students the floor to express what the team meant to them, fully aware that it might take hours. We almost got some “work” done, but at the last call, J. took the offer. He didn’t settle for the floor, but the little guy stood on a table. I had known J. for at least four years already, as his family attended my church. Four years ago, J. was painfully introverted. PAINFULLY. Gixxy helped him through an out-of-state mission trip, and then FRC brought him out of his shell more recently. The team was a key part of FIXING A PERSON. That’s success in my book that goes way, way beyond a blue banner. J’s story was followed by at least a dozen more (all delivered while standing on the table, now that the precedent was established). Every one of them was pushed from a life of mediocrity or insignificance towards a life helping people live better lives. A dozen such stories constitutes unqualified team success in my book.
I’m not going to claim that we’ve achieved the same level of success as 148, 254, 118, or 1114, but I also know that no one will **ever **convince me that I was wasting my time; that’s unqualified success by my criteria.
I have not answered the poll, as I do not understand its criteria.

It just struck me that it seems that our answers, so far, focus on creating exemplary teams. While those are certainly among the successful teams; they are only a small subset of them.

Now, I know all of the slogans about never being satisfied with anything less than excellence, etc; and I don’t disagree in the slightest with an attitude of continuous improvement; but the fact of the matter is that unless you want to declare the vast majority of teams that have had a fairly long life so far, and that aren’t in trouble right now, “unsuccessful”, there are plenty of ordinary, successful teams.

And sure, successfully seeking to emulate an exemplary team is one way to keep the wolves away from the door; but A) it’s not the only way, and B) given that a community’s resources are usually limited, it might result in a detrimental overemphasis on just one aspect of STEM inspiration.

For example, what advice do we have for a community that is so successful at inspiring their best and brightest students to get involved in computational biology and genetic engineering, that having a robotics team in that community is unambiguously an important, but secondary activity?

Or, regardless of whether or not an FRC-style STEM team is the primary STEM activity for a community, who has some thoughts on how to smooth out the peaks and valleys in the life of a team enough so that the team avoids valleys deep enough to mortally wound them, while still enjoying “success” during the peaks, and during all of their middle-of-the-road seasons?

An analogy: Some people run to get to the Olympics, some run to beat their previous best, some run for their health, some run because they enjoy it, etc. Runners have all sorts of motivations, and are successful in many ways. In this analogy, let’s not assume that anyone who isn’t training/running with Olympic intensity, is unsuccessful.


I’m glad that you and many others (presuming) have faith in your respective School Boards. In our State, almost all of them have never been in education and/or attended public schools, and it shows.
Sometimes, just sometimes, school boards can outline their definition of success differently than what teachers, an individual school, and their respective community thinks. The culture and beliefs of our program are in line with our school community, IMO.

I am a student so I obviously don’t have as much experience as many of the other people who have already posted in this thread, but I am most successful when I am absolutely in love with what I am doing and when I am doing everything I can possibly do to be successful.
I know there are circumstances where just working hard won’t cut it, but I’m sure that no team will be successful without working hard (and smart) in the first place.

Everyone hit the nail on the head with these responses, in my mind… The survey points to a bunch of “effects” of having a good team. The “cause” of all those resources (build space, machine shop, large budget, etc.) is having a passionate team. This should really include a dedicated group of students, some committed mentors, and hopefully also school, sponsor and/or parent support.

Now, if you see yourself as a passionate, dedicated team that is willing to roll up their sleeves and put in the serious work of ‘raising the bar’ on your team, then we can provide some advice there too… As two top-level pieces of advice, I’d say:

  1. Be strategic. Decide what your goals are and pursue them. Maybe this is “impacting students lives, skills, and perception of STEM,” maybe this is on-field success, maybe this is effecting change in your community, or maybe it’s something else. Be specific with these where you can… Also, aim high, but also be realistic. If you want on-field success, maybe target ‘being on Einstein’ in 5-years, but first target consistently making it into Saturday afternoon or consistently playing in the Finals. If you can’t make a robot that will frequently make it to the Finals at your Regionals or Districts, then it’s very unlikely you’ll make it onto Einstein. Once you have your goal(s), then make your roadmap (HOW you plan to make yourself successful in that area).

  2. Be relentless. This will require hard-work, good decision-making, an attitude of constant improvement, and at least a little bit of “luck.” Don’t settle for something that “kind of works,” make it highly effective.

I think the three quotes in my signature accurately summarize my advice in general on ‘how to be successful.’