Establishing Culture

This is the time of year when planning meetings are taking place. Oftentimes these are for deciding administrative questions, like:

  • How do we get our fundraising going?
  • What forms need to get filled out?

Hopefully you’re also asking questions like:

  • What off-season competitions are we attending, how do we get there?
  • How do we recruit new students this fall?
  • How do we train returning students?
  • What are our goals for this competition season?

But I think an often overlooked question is:

What kind of team do we want to be?

This should be a question that guides the answers to many of the other questions. Answers to this question are hard, and come in many forms.

Team 20 has our Core Values. The idea is that if we continue to follow our core values in any situation, we should make the right call for the team. Our core values come in three pillars

  • Inspiration
  • Integrity
  • Improvement

We want to inspire students and continually improve, while never compromising our integrity to do so. It’s simple, but it makes it easy to make the right decision sometimes.

Sometimes the decision isn’t simple, though. Questions like:

How much mentor involvement in a task starts to compromise Inspiration in the name of Improvement?

I have my own answer to that question, but so do other mentors, and getting everyone on the same page on questions like this is key for pre-season meetings.

Once you’ve established your focus, you can use that to drive the rest of your decision-making, including your season goals.

It’s easy to look at your season goals from a mentor viewpoint as a mentor sometimes. “Well the goal should be to inspire as many students as possible”. But that’s a) not a quantitative goal, and b) not a goal for the students. The goal should be something to point to and say “this is what we’re going for”. It’s the directive to inspire students to succeed in certain ways, rather than a directive about inspiration.

It’s well known that every year Team 1114 sets their competitive goal as “Winning a World Championship”. And that can be your goal too. Team 20’s competitive goal for 2014 and 2015 was “Reach Einstein”, but our competitive goal in 2013 was “Don’t suck” (which was generally defined as being confident we’d get picked at a regional). 5254’s goal for 2015 was to reach championships.

This discussion isn’t limited to just competitive goals, however. It also applies for awards, sponsorships, outreach, and recruitment. They can be things like “Win a Chairman’s Award”, “Recruit 15 new students”, or “Gain an additional $3000 in sponsorship money so we can build a practice robot”.

One thing to note about all of these goals is that they’re quantitative. It’s possible to come up with steps and sub-goals for each to advance toward the goal. Goals should not be things like “Build a better robot”, unless “better” is specifically defined, or “Inspire more students”, unless “inspiration” and “more” are specifically defined for you.

Coming up with goals that fit your focus is key to a successful season.

Some teams already have foci and goals established year-on-year, but it can be smart to rethink goals and foci if something isn’t working, or the team’s dynamic has shifted. The loss or gain of certain resources, especially people, can shift team dynamics considerably.

Goals need to be broken down into smaller steps next. A goal like “Win the Chairman’s Award” can be broken down into steps like “select a Chairman’s team”, “outline Chairman’s essay”, “write first draft”, etc.

Goals like “Win a World Championship” have to be broken down into subgoals like “Win a Division”, “Qualify for World Championships”. These might be further broken down into “Win a regional event”, which might break into “Seed first at a regional”, which might direct your robot goals for the season. It could also break down into “Win the Chairman’s Award at a regional”, and the corresponsing steps that go with that goal. If you’re aiming for a Chairman’s award and a World Championship, that might direct your robot goals into building the perfect support robot, because if you don’t need to win a regional to get to Championships, you might be able to build a perfect support machine.

Finding a focus, setting team goals, and breaking them down into quantitative steps and subgoals will set most team’s seasons off right, as well as remove doubt from your build season processes. Disagreements can be settled by pointing to your goals or focus instead of bitter, time-consuming debate.

Remember these as you go into the pre-season, and good luck.

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