Team Chemistry and Participation

With my school finally beginning our season, we are about to receive our team assignments (same day we know who made the team/got cut off). Every year, we usually don’t know who we’re working with until the very first meeting. All we know is that each team has six people.
Last year, my best friend and I (who are semi-confident we will be on the same team) both observed some disastrous team chemistry from both of our teams. Essentially what you hear about all the time - only 2-3 people on the team doing work, and others goofing off, on their phones, or just not caring at all about how the team does. This would be alright if those 2-3 people actually working can get their work done, but the team still has to account for them (what do they say during an interview at a tournament, what is their documented “role” on the team?). Sometimes it gets to the point where the people actually doing the work become toxic with those who don’t, and makes it even harder for the people who don’t work to actually have a reason to work.
Does anybody have experience with this and could impart some knowledge?

If everyone wants to do a majority of the work, there are going to be issues.

Last season, my partner was happy doing a small percentage of the work but she wanted to have total control over the design and she wanted to drive, so we only fought when rebuilding and at competitions. The year before, my partner and I both wanted to do a majority of the build but it was clear he would program and drive, so we only fought when building. Three years ago, my partner was clearly a better driver and I was clearly a better builder, so we got along great except when we disagreed about alliance selection and design changes (rarely- that was a really mellow year).

If worst comes to worst, you may need to make 2 teams of the 2-3 competitive members and the 2-3 less involved members to solve your issue. If the “slackers” want to play on their phone and build a pushbot, that’s their right, and if the builders want to have a dominant role and build a competitive robot, that’s their right as well. The other option is for the less dedicated members to take up less critical roles such as pit management and scouting so that there’s less to fight about. If everyone has clearly defined roles and agrees about the parameters of those roles, there’s never a reason to fight.

Good luck with your teams today, hopefully everything works out!

There are probably two elements to what can be done.

The first is what your mentor/coach/teacher could be doing. That is noticing when someone is not engaged and either finding a way to get them engaged or determining if robotics is really their thing and encouraging them to move to an activity that interests them more if it is not. Most robotics programs have more students interested than spots available - so it is really not fair for someone to consume oxygen when there is another student that would really like to be there. As a coach, I have been known to hold onto phones during meetings. I pay attention to who is engaged and who is not engaged and try to find ways to keep them engaged. Sometimes students that are not engaged get some “one on one” time with the coach to discuss why they’re not engaged.

Second is what you as a student could be doing. Robotics is building robots - but it is also learning about other skills, as well, including leadership. First step is being a leader is “modeling the behavior.” So, if your teammate sees you working hard, that might motivate him or her to work hard. Second part of leadership is to assign tasks and hold the person accountable to produce results. Accountability is key. Instead of hoping a person will do something you assign a task and say, I need this finished by X. If X comes and nothing is produced - you need to have a discussion with your teammate. Why didn’t it get done? Was it too hard? Did you not make time for it? Was it an aspect of robotics that you are not interested in? Did you not enjoy the task? Your action will depending on the answer. If you get someone to admit that they are not really interested in contributing to the team, you can ask them to step aside. This is your team. You do not have to keep someone that is not interested in contributing.

I had trouble with this as the president of my team last year, and the advice I would give would be to ask for their idea’s and input to fix a problem with the robot, and I can’t stress this enough, you MUST give tasks for team members to complete and don’t forget to tell them how to do it or give them a direction, because chances are if you tell someone to just design and build a intake for example, they will struggle. Give them some parameters, tell them the size, where it would fit on the bot, etc. help them along and if you see they are still struggling, try assigning them another task. Also make sure it is a friendly open environment, joke around, have fun, share crazy idea’s. If they hear your crazy idea’s they will be more willing to share their idea’s. (Our last meeting we were rolling around on one of the 3.5 in pipes) This inspires creativity and greatly helps with team chemistry. Also look for their strengths and assign them accordingly. Best of luck.

This might sound harsh, but you could most likely kick the slackers off the team. Normally a smaller team works better anyways. As a person that attempted to have an 8 person team, don’t. Six is probably too many anyways. If people don’t want to do their work, just kick them off. If this is a class, Our school lets you kick people out of groups after three strikes and then they are on their own. You could try something like that with your facilitator.

I don’t have a whole lot of people at my disposal. Any tips on getting them motivated? I’ve only two others, and I do a lot of the work.

If there are kids that want to be in the robotics program and there are kids playing on phones, then they should be booted out. However, a lot of these things should be partially managed by the coach/teacher. Kids that are applying for the program but just playing around may just not know what to do and are afraid / intimidated to ask.

I have 21 I! teams and a couple of VRC teams. Even this late in the year I will still make some group changes, but not that many. Most of the groups have stayed the same but about 25% have changed to some extent. Your coach should just keep an eye out as these problems are easy to spot and fix if you’re paying attention. With high school kids, you should have fewer problems than the drama that I have in middle school, but the coach has to be on top of the kids to help mentor and shape the behaviour.

I also know that some coaches have a very hands-off approach, and I understand and appreciate that as well. The kids need to learn to manage themselves to get the project going. Maybe that’s why I’m in middle school.

There’s a lot of great advice in this thread. But you’ll have to pick which one(s) fit your situation. Some of the advice needs to be taken w.r.t. how competitive a team you have.

If the team is competitive and looking to operated at a high level, the unmotivated may just be afraid to let you down. Try delegating tasks like prototypes, notebook and scouting (not just at your matches but on youtube).

If the team is more organized to learn robotics (I don’t think this is the case with the OP or others here), then you need to ask them why they aren’t involved. This situation probably needs a coaches involvement. Maybe they really don’t want to be working on robotics.

But the best advice I can give is for next season. Get your coach to allow you to make job descriptions and interview applicants. Let them know up front what their role and responsibilities will be.