Pioneers and Settlers on the Perfect Team

I recently read an article on LinkedIn about research that Google did on managing teams. (see What Google Learned About Creating the Perfect Team)

I wanted to comment about that. 

I have led over 10,000 teams in my War on Waste program. Our goal is to find $100,000 of waste that could be fixed for $2,000. The target is 50 to 1 ROI. We actually never achieved that, instead, we got 38 to 1 as an average result. Not bad.

But here is what I learned about teams.

To start, I have a simple gauge of people: they are either pioneers or settlers.  The pioneer is the aggressive, driven individual that wants to win.  And the pioneer is the employee who shows up to work, does the job and expects to be paid.  You know the two types.  You could form your own formula of how you make the judgement.  It doesn’t need to be  scientific.  And I have been wrong about both types but not very often.  I merely made a personal judgement about the team members.  Using my assessment, as an example, I would watch the people in a team and see that there might be 3 pioneers in a 5 man team.  That was never successful. For precisely the reason noted in one of the 2 teams in the above cited article.  (2 teams were noted: 1 with aggressive Pioneers and one with a balance favoring Settlers).  There was no question which one was the most fun to be part of.  The pioneers would fight to get their idea into play and then try to sabotage the success of the pioneer with the winning idea.  So in my world, I would trade one of the 3 pioneers to another team with no pioneers for one of the pioneers. But the key to balancing this process was not letting the pioneers fighting impede my success. I wanted all the teams to be successful and to be successful quickly.  Fighting team members do not move quickly.

And it worked very well over the years.  My actions were subtle because I didn’t want people to know my strategy.  I think people that I have worked with acknowledge my success.  But what I learned recently was how to get success with all pioneers on a team.

I was doing a project with a Fortune 100 Executive team and I broke up the 12 executives into teams of 2 people and their goal was a 100 to 1 idea, at least $1 Billion waste and solved with a cost of less than $10 Million.  But the key was that they had to support the other executive on their little team.  It worked marvelously and all 12 ideas got implemented in short order.  Results were better than expected. But the key was putting them on a team that implemented 2 ideas.  So there was a mutual understanding that they needed to work together to establish favor with the CEO.

I wrote this short note to let the readers know that over my 30 years of doing my War on Waste that I am still learning a lot about teams.  What is interesting is that technology has slanted the team discussions in companies heavily laden with Pioneers.   And with that, we are all morphing our understanding of teams. 


Len Bertain

About Tribal Knowledge Series

In a career spanning over 30 years, Len Bertain has coached over 150 CEO’s to help them understand and correct inefficiencies and lost profits in their business. He created the well-known “War on Waste” program, a preeminent Lean Business tool, to guide leadership teams through the process. He is an author of four books on the War on Waste and a frequent speaker to CEO groups. Since its inception, the War on Waste program has generated over $1 Billion in first-year profits from over 10,000 ideas, all generated by client company employees. The companies involved in the War on Waste have been as small as 10 people with Fortune 100 companies at the other extreme. His books include: How to Win the War on Waste in 90 Days, The War on Waste Paradox, War on Waste Innovation, and The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm. Len's Bookstore In 1994, he founded the Institute for Productivity and, in 1999, CEO University, both based in San Francisco, CA. He holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Nevada and a B.S. in Physics and Math from St. Mary’s College of California. He lives in California with his wife and has 3 grown sons and 9 grandchildren.
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