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

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Report Honest Data


As you might guess, the whole concept of measurement is based on reporting honest data. But sometimes it isn’t possible. At one of our early clients, a work cell was created to manufacture the particular product of interest and the workers were asked to report the output of the cell each day and post it for all to see. Everyone in the shop knew the daily production output of this cell. It was reported on a continuous basis in big, bold numbers on a white board, totally visible to all employees.

Several weeks later, the owner noticed that the numbers were down from the previous day. He immediately jumped on the lead man in the work area, since he knew only one way to deal with problems: confrontation. The owner didn’t fully appreciate that in the War on Waste approach the concept of NO BLAME is an underpinning philosophy. We reminded him and he retraced his steps and apologized to the lead man.

His actions, however, gave us the idea for a different way to measure. We wanted an approach that would be based on a No Blame philosophy, wouldn’t point fingers, and yet would measure critical variables that we wanted to influence. But we wanted “Honest Data.” The “No Blame” concept is the basis of War on Waste’s measurement process. ‘No Blame” and simplicity of measurement are the important ingredients of this process, as we lead our clients toward improved productivity. There is a key linkage between “No Blame” and “Reporting of Honest Data;” they go hand in hand. We often initiate discussion of the importance of honest data by showing a vignette from “History of the World: Part 2”. (Moses and the Ten Commandments) As you may recall, Moses (played by Mel Brooks) comes down from the mountain holding 3 tablets, and he speaks to the children of Israel, saying: “I bring you the fifteen…” Just then, he drops one of the tablets and exclaims: “Oy!” He then begins again. “I bring you the Ten Commandments.” This really makes our point about reporting of honest data. And it had a little humor as well.



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Pope Francis Talks about Leadership


It’s a rare day that I would introduce Pope Francis as the subject of a blog.  But he deserves this one.  He lectured his Cardinals about the 15 Diseases of Leadership as only he could do. It is a message that we all could listen to:

The 15 diseases of leadership according to Pope Francis


From the Harvard Business Review, April 14, 2015, by Gary Hamel

Pope Francis has made no secret of his intention to radically reform the administrative structures of the Catholic church, which he regards as insular, imperious, and bureaucratic. He understands that in a hyper-kinetic world, inward-looking and self-obsessed leaders are a liability.

Last year, just before Christmas, the Pope addressed the leaders of the Roman Curia — the Cardinals and other officials who are charged with running the church’s byzantine network of administrative bodies. The Pope’s message to his colleagues was blunt. Leaders are susceptible to an array of debilitating maladies, including arrogance, intolerance, myopia, and pettiness. When those diseases go untreated, the organization itself is enfeebled. To have a healthy church, we need healthy leaders.

Through the years, I’ve heard dozens of management experts enumerate the qualities of great leaders. Seldom, though, do they speak plainly about the “diseases” of leadership. The Pope is more forthright. He understands that as human beings we have certain proclivities — not all of them noble. Nevertheless, leaders should be held to a high standard, since their scope of influence makes their ailments particularly infectious.

The Catholic Church is a bureaucracy: a hierarchy populated by good-hearted, but less-than-perfect souls. It that sense, it’s not much different than your organization. That’s why the Pope’s counsel is relevant to leaders everywhere.

With that in mind, I spent a couple of hours translating the Pope’s address into something a little closer to corporate-speak. (I don’t know if there’s a prohibition on paraphrasing Papal pronouncements, but since I’m not Catholic, I’m willing to take the risk.)

Herewith, then, the Pope (more or less):


The leadership team is called constantly to improve and to grow in rapport and wisdom, in order to carry out fully its mission. And yet, like any body, like any human body, it is also exposed to diseases, malfunctioning, infirmity. Here I would like to mention some of these “[leadership] diseases.” They are diseases and temptations which can dangerously weaken the effectiveness of any organization.

  1. The disease of thinking we are immortal, immune, or downright indispensable, [and therefore] neglecting the need for regular check-ups. A leadership team which is not self-critical, which does not keep up with things, which does not seek to be more fit, is a sick body. A simple visit to the cemetery might help us see the names of many people who thought they were immortal, immune, and indispensable! It is the disease of those who turn into lords and masters, who think of themselves as above others and not at their service. It is the pathology of power and comes from a superiority complex, from a narcissism which passionately gazes at its own image and does not see the face of others, especially the weakest and those most in need. The antidote to this plague is humility; to say heartily, “I am merely a servant. I have only done what was my duty.”
  2. Another disease is excessive busyness.It is found in those who immerse themselves in work and inevitably neglect to “rest a while.” Neglecting needed rest leads to stress and agitation. A time of rest, for those who have completed their work, is necessary, obligatory and should be taken seriously: by spending time with one’s family and respecting holidays as moments for recharging.
  3. Then there is the disease of mental and [emotional] “petrification.”It is found in leaders who have a heart of stone, the “stiff-necked;” in those who in the course of time lose their interior serenity, alertness and daring, and hide under a pile of papers, turning into paper pushers and not men and women of compassion. It is dangerous to lose the human sensitivity that enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! Because as time goes on, our hearts grow hard and become incapable of loving all those around us. Being a humane leader means having the sentiments of humility and unselfishness, of detachment and generosity.
  4. The disease of excessive planning and of functionalism.When a leader plans everything down to the last detail and believes that with perfect planning things will fall into place, he or she becomes an accountant or an office manager. Things need to be prepared well, but without ever falling into the temptation of trying to eliminate spontaneity and serendipity, which is always more flexible than any human planning. We contract this disease because it is easy and comfortable to settle in our own sedentary and unchanging ways.
  5. The disease of poor coordination.Once leaders lose a sense of community among themselves, the body loses its harmonious functioning and its equilibrium; it then becomes an orchestra that produces noise: its members do not work together and lose the spirit of camaraderie and teamwork. When the foot says to the arm: ‘I don’t need you,’ or the hand says to the head, ‘I’m in charge,’ they create discomfort and parochialism.
  6. There is also a sort of “leadership Alzheimer’s disease.”It consists in losing the memory of those who nurtured, mentored and supported us in our own journeys. We see this in those who have lost the memory of their encounters with the great leaders who inspired them; in those who are completely caught up in the present moment, in their passions, whims and obsessions; in those who build walls and routines around themselves, and thus become more and more the slaves of idols carved by their own hands.
  7. The disease of rivalry and vainglory.When appearances, our perks, and our titles become the primary object in life, we forget our fundamental duty as leaders—to “do nothing from selfishness or conceit but in humility count others better than ourselves.” [As leaders, we must] look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others.
  8. The disease of existential schizophrenia.This is the disease of those who live a double life, the fruit of that hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and of a progressive emotional emptiness which no [accomplishment or] title can fill. It is a disease which often strikes those who are no longer directly in touch with customers and “ordinary” employees, and restrict themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality, with concrete people.
  9. The disease of gossiping, grumbling, and back-biting.This is a grave illness which begins simply, perhaps even in small talk, and takes over a person, making him become a “sower of weeds” and in many cases, a cold-blooded killer of the good name of colleagues. It is the disease of cowardly persons who lack the courage to speak out directly, but instead speak behind other people’s backs. Let us be on our guard against the terrorism of gossip!
  10. The disease of idolizing superiors.This is the disease of those who court their superiors in the hope of gaining their favor. They are victims of careerism and opportunism; they honor persons [rather than the larger mission of the organization]. They think only of what they can get and not of what they should give; small-minded persons, unhappy and inspired only by their own lethal selfishness. Superiors themselves can be affected by this disease, when they try to obtain the submission, loyalty and psychological dependency of their subordinates, but the end result is unhealthy complicity.
  11. The disease of indifference to others.This is where each leader thinks only of himself or herself, and loses the sincerity and warmth of [genuine] human relationships. This can happen in many ways: When the most knowledgeable person does not put that knowledge at the service of less knowledgeable colleagues, when you learn something and then keep it to yourself rather than sharing it in a helpful way with others; when out of jealousy or deceit you take joy in seeing others fall instead of helping them up and encouraging them.
  12. The disease of a downcast face.You see this disease in those glum and dour persons who think that to be serious you have to put on a face of melancholy and severity, and treat others—especially those we consider our inferiors—with rigor, brusqueness and arrogance. In fact, a show of severity and sterile pessimism are frequently symptoms of fear and insecurity. A leader must make an effort to be courteous, serene, enthusiastic and joyful, a person who transmits joy everywhere he goes. A happy heart radiates an infectious joy: it is immediately evident! So a leader should never lose that joyful, humorous and even self-deprecating spirit which makes people amiable even in difficult situations. How beneficial is a good dose of humor! …
  13. The disease of hoarding.This occurs when a leader tries to fill an existential void in his or her heart by accumulating material goods, not out of need but only in order to feel secure. The fact is that we are not able to bring material goods with us when we leave this life, since “the winding sheet does not have pockets” and all our treasures will never be able to fill that void; instead, they will only make it deeper and more demanding. Accumulating goods only burdens and inexorably slows down the journey!
  14. The disease of closed circles, where belonging to a clique becomes more powerful than our shared identity. This disease too always begins with good intentions, but with the passing of time it enslaves its members and becomes a cancer which threatens the harmony of the organization and causes immense evil, especially to those we treat as outsiders. “Friendly fire” from our fellow soldiers, is the most insidious danger. It is the evil which strikes from within. As it says in the bible, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste.”
  15. Lastly: the disease of extravagance and self-exhibition. This happens when a leader turns his or her service into power, and uses that power for material gain, or to acquire even greater power. This is the disease of persons who insatiably try to accumulate power and to this end are ready to slander, defame and discredit others; who put themselves on display to show that they are more capable than others. This disease does great harm because it leads people to justify the use of any means whatsoever to attain their goal, often in the name of justice and transparency! Here I remember a leader who used to call journalists to tell and invent private and confidential matters involving his colleagues. The only thing he was concerned about was being able to see himself on the front page, since this made him feel powerful and glamorous, while causing great harm to others and to the organization.

Friends, these diseases are a danger for every leader and every organization, and they can strike at the individual and the community levels.

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Chalking the Field

Chalking the FieldThe term “chalk the field” means exactly what it implies. Remember the games growing up. I grew up in the country and had a field that the neighboring farm kids and he would use to play baseball. We didn’t have chalked lines to mark the field but we had things just as good. We had the old Redwood tree that was a dead totem out in one of the farmer’s fields and we had the edge of the barn. That was the first base line. The third base line was the fence post and the tree in the corner of the field.
Of course, home, first, second and third bases were cow pies. Not fresh ones of course. So when a game was played, things went pretty smooth until a questionable foul ball got everyone in a tither and issues arose. Eventually, the issue was resolved and the game continued.

This is mentioned as the foundation to what is called “Chalking the Field” because today’s kids only play baseball in the totally organized life of the city kid. They need chalked fields and a clear-cut infield to play baseball. When they are taken to an empty field, they would not be creative initially but they would have figured out how to “Chalk the Field” on their own if they wanted to play a game. If you don’t have chalked lines you have to agree on a different approach and they would have come up with the same things done many years earlier. They did that because they needed boundaries and rules to play the game. What was a fair ball? Who calls strikes? And so forth.

My friend grew up in Canada and had similar experiences with random hockey rinks in iced over field ponds. Issues of boundaries, goals and fairness were resolved in a “sand lot” format similar to the baseball scenario noted. Anyone growing up in a soccer intense environment tells the same stories about playing a game without defined boundaries. Kids figure it out and the games are played with the intensity intended.

In business, a similar thing is done. There are rules that define each job. But there aren’t necessarily rules to define how the game of winning at the company will be played. That is the job of strategy. Jobs are isolated and metrics applied to the tasks involved. But when you have a group of people working to a common goal of optimized output of the group, they are a team and the rules that define winning need to be made clear. The rules amount to “Chalking the Field.” That is what is meant by this expression.

If the General Manager or the COO or even the CEO wants to get optimum results, they need to engage the team members in a discussion of the work rules for a winning team. Of course, they can dictate that but that usually gets sub-optimal results. Or you can just let the people try to put the rules together without any guidance from management and that is another prospect for a failure. It should be a management/worker effort. If the employees and management are agreed on the strategy and how that is relevant to the Mission, then “chalking the field” will get the expected results.

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Tribal Knowledge, No Blame and Honest Data

A number of years ago, I wrote a column for the Oakland Chamber of Commerce on the Tribal Knowledge Paradigm and one of the issues that came up was a particular company’s inability to get orders on time to the customer.  I wrote a few of these thoughts at that time (1993) and I have added some recent thinking to the concept to make it relevant to today’s business climate.  Interestingly, the issue and my recommendations are still useful.  You can read about these in a recent publication of mine that is available on (see below)

We see variations of this same problem in just about all of our clients since the original advice was offered.  Any time a company has grown and, more than likely, newer people have joined the organization, they are not as tuned in to the company business goals and procedures as management might want.

To begin with, you are dealing with a situation where no amount of talking seems to work.  Surprisingly, we have a very simple tool to raise this issue to everyone in the company to a top priority and here is how we do it.

It begins with a simple slogan that we have trademarked No Blame.

No blame logo

Here is how it works. You need to fix the problem but it is irrelevant how it became a problem. You don’t need to blame anyone, you just need to fix the problem. And the way we approach this problem is using a very simple measurement tool called a “Yes/No Chart.”  We talked about this in an earlier blog but I wanted to re-emphasize it.  This is coupled to the “No Blame” because the measurement of a “Yes/No” chart is exactly as it implies: Did something happen: Yes or No?  There is no gray area. And there is a key linkage between “No Blame” and “Reporting of Honest Data;” they go hand in hand.  We often initiate discussion of the importance of honest data by showing a vignette from “History of the World: Part 2”. As you may recall, Moses (played by Mel Brooks) comes down from the mountain holding 3 tablets, and he speaks to the children of Israel, saying: “I bring you the fifteen — .” Just then, he drops one of the tablets. and exclaims: “Oy!” He then begins again. “I bring you the ten commandments.” So much for the reporting of honest data. You can preview the video here: 

It is quite clear, however, that honest data cannot be reported in an organization where blaming is prevalent. All employees learn to hide, avoid, and distort information in order to avoid personal blame and confrontation. When that happens, no measurement tool will be particularly useful, because it will be based on faulty data.

We said earlier that simplicity in measurement is important in the Tribal Knowledge Paradigm. We can’t emphasize this too strongly. Complicated measurement systems are fine for analysts, researchers and academics, but for the average employee who needs to know whether a process or work performance is improving, the measures must be easily understood and unequivocal. They must be simple to make the Tribal Knowledge Paradigm work.

You can read about this book at:

Len’s Bookstore;

Each of Len’s 4 books is selling for $20 as a soft cover copy.

The Kindle e-book version is available for $1 at the Amazon website.

I have volume discounts available on

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Tribal Knowledge Paradigm: Background

This is the first part of the first chapter of our next book, “The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm.”  We aren’t going to put the whole book here, just enough.

We believe that the ever-increasing speed of change and complexity are driving beyond effective limits of current corporate infrastructure and management methods.  As Bill Gates put it, “business is performing at the speed of light.”

Is this sufficient reason to change?  This may not be the root cause or it may not be the final straw, but it is an indicator that today’s markets require a different look at what a successful management paradigm might be.  How do you manage in such conditions?  How do you get the bang for the buck that investors are demanding?  And how do you do so with minimal disruption of your organization?

Are we crazy to even ask such a question?  Perhaps, but we think that there is a very subtle but powerful way to accomplish this goal with a minor change in how we manage companies.  And it is not based upon a feeling or a gut-check but hard evidence from over 150 engagements where all of these suggestions were tested.

And further, when we look at the success of energy infusion programs at GE and Southwest Airlines, we are able to ask ourselves how do our experiences relate with the initiatives of Jack Welch and Herb Kelleher.  Although our pragmatic learnings had their beginnings in business  operations turnaround [1],  we came to understand the value of company wide action with a sense of focused urgency.

The paradigm evolved into a hybrid of the Work Out Program of Jack Welch and the Wing Ding of Herb Kelleher.  We engage “Corporate Know How” by having employees identify and solve problems in a process and a structure that incubate innovation and best business practice, while creating great employee morale.

This initial phase, the War on Waste, worked like this.  In a six week program, employees were asked to find $100,000 of Waste as measured by its effect on the company’s productivity (efficiency) or sales.  It either affected top line revenues or costs.  And we made it challenging in that they couldn’t spend more than $2,000 to fix the problem.  As a business goal, a 50 to 1 return is a pretty good deal.  In fact, in an audit of our program, the actual results of 23 small businesses that participated, we were able to document a 38 to 1 return or 3800% ROI for these projects.  That isn’t the targeted 50 to 1 ratio of $100,000 of waste to its solution of $2,000 but it works for most investors.

The by-products of this phase, after high ROI, are a better understanding and an amplification of the tangible asset, “Know How” as well as ferreting out roadblocks and bottlenecks to internal growth.

Those results were both typical and spectacular.  We were able to see these types of results in all of our projects across a spectrum of businesses:  machine shops, hospitals, doctor’s offices, distribution businesses, continuous flow manufacturers, discrete manufacturers and service businesses, it didn’t make a difference what kind of business that we worked.  The results were always the same: Spectacular.

But then you have to ask, why?  Why did we get these results?  Why did Jack Welch or Herb Kelleher get their results?  We have struggled with this question for over 25 years.  And then it hit us.  (We’ll tell you more about the Tribal Knowledge Paradigm tomorrow on this blog.)

[1]  EarlyRoper Industries (ROP) business turnaround 1987-1989 and War on Waste clients (1985-1989)

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Tribal Knowledge Paradigm: Basics

What is Tribal Knowledge?

(This is the first part of the 3rd Chapter of the new book: The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm to be published October, 2012.)  We struggled with a definition, as there was no usable one available anywhere.  So we made up our own definition in the context of how we use it.  We defined Tribal Knowledge in the second chapter and we will repeat it here again.

Tribal Knowledge or Know-How is the collective wisdom of the organization.  It is the sum of all the knowledge and capabilities of all the people.  It is the knowledge used to deliver, to support, or to develop value for customers.  But it is also all the knowledge that is wrong, imprecise, and useless. It is knowledge of the informal power structure and process or how things really work and how they ought to.  It is knowledge of who constrains the process and who facilitates it.  It is the knowledge that is squirreled away by employees who feel a need to protect their jobs by not sharing the information needed to do a job.  It is all the skeletons in the corporate closet.  This is part of the totality of the Tribal Knowledge.

For example, it is the knowledge and the experience of the assembler who won’t tell others how he can put those two casings together (when no one else can).  That knowledge is his job security.  But more importantly, it is untapped knowledge that remains unused or abused.

So we use that definition for Know How as well.  We use the terms interchangeably.

What is the Tribal Knowledge Paradigm?

Very basically, the Tribal Knowledge Paradigm consists of the following 4 principles:

1.  “Tribal Knowledge” and “Know How” are used interchangeably

We believe that the equating of Tribal Knowledge with Know How takes a big issue off the table because of the confusion that we have experienced trying to explain any differences.  There is none in our view.  When CEOs asked us over and over to distinguish between the two, we basically simplified the discussion by saying that they were the same.  Nothing else made sense.  It just makes all discussions in the area a lot easier.  Once we are all clear on that, we can continue moving forward.

Yet it is our intent to spotlight Corporate Know How as the prerequisite of business success and by using the term “Tribal Knowledge” we emphasize the structure and process of improving “Know How.”

And this point recognizes that Tribal Knowledge ia an essential resource that must be continually maintained, developed and synchronized with organizational mission.   This almost sounds obvious but over our 25 years engaged in this consulting work, we realized that like all things, you must pay attention to it.

That is why the analogy of the Second Law of Thermodynamics is so important to us.  It allows us to explain the need to keep adding energy to the system.  It tells us that we need to pay attention to Tribal Knowledge but it doesn’t tell us that we need to increase it or improve it.  It merely says that we need to pay attention to it.  We cover the need to increase Tribal Knowledge in the next principle of our definition in the next blog.

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