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From 0 to 100: how dream teams step on the gas

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Rahel Grunder

Published

14.02.2022

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It takes a pioneering spirit to bring about social change. And it takes a functioning team to turn pioneering projects into reality. In our videos series, three teams tell us how they found each other, how they work together and how they address problems.

For idealistic, proactive pioneers seeking to turn their innovative ideas into practice, the perfect team is more than a nice-to-have. It is indispensable. «The team is more important than the idea itself», Stefan Schöbi, Director of the Migros Pioneer Fund, explains. Without a functioning team, nothing works out. That is why the Pioneer Fund has dedicated a whole chapter of its new handbook, «From 0 to 100», to the meaning of team play.

Rea Eggli, a pioneer at #letsmuseeum, has overseen many projects and knows well that getting the team composition right is a major challenge for start-ups: «You need team members who, rather than just doing a job, fully identify with the project and give it their all, despite modest wages and an uncertain future.»

You or me? An interview with the dream team Rea Eggli and Caroline Schlüter.

Ondine Riesen of the Ting project has no doubt: «Skills can be learned. Passion for a cause, empathy, appreciation and mutual respect, on the other hand, are factors that do not develop quite as well if they aren’t there to begin with.»

Who is the right addition to the team?

How, then, do you find the right people who can and will change the world with you? Our guidebook says: «You need partners who complement you at a professional and human level. Don’t look for someone just like you. Look for people whose skills can add to yours.» The pioneers themselves have also contributed their own tips and tricks to help others find their perfect team. Philipp Glauser of the Thingsy project, for example, recommends the book «Cofounding The Right Way» by Jana Nevrlka to everyone struggling to pick the right project partners.

And how can such advice be put into practice? Silvan Groher of the Ting team has told us that he found his own project partner, Ondine Riesen, thanks to a recommendation from his wife: «I was looking for someone who can relate to others and put themselves in their shoes, someone who can convey experiences in the form of stories. My wife immediately said: you’ll have to get in touch with Ondine.»

You or me? An interview with the dream team Ondine Riesen and Silvan Groher.

When Marius Portmann started SimpleTrain, he had a clear vision but little in the way of concepts. In need of a team, he brought his former schoolmates, Austin Widmer and Linus Egli on board. He believed that the time they shared at high school and the behaviour he had observed at school was a sufficient basis for a successful partnership. Their huge success shows that he was right: the team has grown from three to seven members since. And they did not sacrifice their pioneering spirit nor their humour. «We’re like the bobsleigh team from Cool Runnings – a bit haphazard but pretty fast», Linus Egli comments with a laugh.

You or me? An interview with the dream team Marius Portmann and Linus Egli.

How much structure, how much agility?

Comparisons with sports teams abound in the world of business. Mike Zani, the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller «The Science of Dream Teams», explains this in historical terms: During industrialisation, humans were a replaceable resource in the work process, but today’s businesses are built on individual talents and expertise. People are given the exact roles that allow them to make the most of their unique skills. («If the model for the industrial age was a hyper-efficient Toyota plant, the template for the Information Age might be a professional sports franchise.»)

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The Ting team (clockwise from the left): Ruben Feurer, Vinzenz Leutenegger, Ondine Riesen, Ralph Moser, David Simon, Silvan Groher, Malik El Bay, Flurin Hess. Image: Swami Mooday

The Ting team is built not just on competence but on preference: Its members choose their own work, picking tasks with which they are comfortable and which allow them to utilise their existing skills while acquiring new ones. Their organisational structure is sociocracy 3.0 based on a decentralised distribution model. It is role-based, and most decisions are made by multiple roles. The only thing required for the business to function is that all basic roles are filled. Everything else is agile and adapted to the needs of the team and the work ahead. (Find out more about sociocracy at: www.sociocracy30.org).

In the beginning, the SimpleTrain team adhered to traditional structures. Linus Egli recalls: «At the start, we were a CEO and CTO and so on. But we soon realised that these roles do not work for a small, dynamic business like ours.»

Rea and Caroline of #letsmuseeum each have clear roles that are based on their specific talents: Rea makes plans, comes up with new formats and develops the business, while Caroline is the operative manager in charge of communications, customer support and the external team. Rea adds: «With a little team like ours, where everyone works part time, and a growing business that needs to stay agile, it is crucial that everyone contributes their ideas and efforts. We have a transparent, participatory work culture involving close exchange and mutual support in our daily work.» New circumstances, such as the coronavirus pandemic, also require new organisational structures. Caroline says: «Before the pandemic, we were a team of up to six people. When Covid-19 hit, we were down to the two of us – Rea and I – plus an existing, well-trained network which we involved as and when necessary.»

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Seeking to convince Switzerland’s population of sustainable travel (left to right): Marius Portmann, Karin Hugentobler, Austin Widmer, Saskia Bilang, Linus Egli. Image: (zvg)

And what happens when things don’t go so smoothly?

Of course, our three dream teams sometimes encounter friction. «Disagreements always come up when we’ve got too much on our plates», Marius Portmann of SimpleTrain explains. But their team has weathered every storm so far. How? By keeping their emotions in check, refraining from personal attacks on one another and staying objective. «We’re all friends. Friends don’t want to attack each other personally.»

The Ting team are not afraid to address problems. Ondine comments with disarming honesty: «It’s not a bad thing to be caught with our trousers down. In fact, it’s incredibly relaxing. Once someone’s weaknesses are all out in the open, the others can help them out. And we don’t waste energy pretending that we can do something that we actually struggle with.»

To Caroline of #letsmuseeum, communication is key: «First of all, you need an honest conversation about it. This sounds simple, but it isn’t always. But talking about it to work out exactly what is the problem and why, that is essential.»

Crying together, cheering together

Let’s get back to sports: Footballers crying in each other’s arms and curlers celebrating together are an integral part of it all. After all, there is more to the team spirit than hard work. There is shared joy and sadness, and that also goes for dream teams. «Marius makes sure that we occasionally get together for a beer after work», his colleague Linus explains. «I need everyone to know that this is about more than just work. We want to have fun, too», Marius responds with a smile.

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Emotional storytelling: #letsmuseeum has developed 13 museum and city tours in various cities. Image: (zvg)

The Pioneer Fund’s guidebook suggests asking yourself the following question when making a decision on potential project partners: «Could you live in the same household as this person?» Rea goes one step further, comparing the relationship of a team of founders with that of a romantic couple: «You are both in love with the idea and do everything to make it happen. For the first few years, you will be spending more time in this relationship than with your actual romantic partner, and it will be an emotional rollercoaster: you celebrate, you cry, you cheer each other on and support each other. On top of a shared vision, you need to like each other and trust each other a great deal.»

The three duos we have interviewed in our videos gave us no doubt: not only do they work hard and passionately on their pioneering projects, they also appreciate each other at a personal level and have become friends – if they weren’t already friends to begin with. Ondine: «I like to compare us to the Ninja Turtles. They all have their superpowers, they have exciting adventures together and somehow make their plans work.»

Das Handbuch für Pionier*innen.

Cover of the «From 0 to 100» handbook

The handbook for pioneers

If you've got a special idea – one that might benefit society as a whole – then this handbook for pioneers will help you get your idea off the ground and go about the right things the right way. It's utterly practical. With a whole array of inspiring tips and specific tools. Above all, it includes all the experience that other pioneers have acquired through their projects. Its twelve chapters contain handy tips, concrete advice and suggestions, as well as loads of «0 to 100» moments that demonstrate what a true pioneering project feels like. In other words, those little boosts of energy that reveal what gives you and your idea that crucial lift and spurs you on to big things. From 0 to 100!

The book will be available at bookshops from 25 January 2022.

Photo/stage: Pascal Swier/unsplash

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