Management Insights: the Gamekeeper & the Poacher

Management Insights: are you a gamekeeper or a poacher?

As a consultant, I often find myself being a gamekeeper by day and a poacher by night. Bear with me, and I'll explain the difference between the two.

This article is not about one set of traits being right and another being wrong. However, it is about understanding how traits can clump together to form a managerial type that might not fit the job at hand.

Question: are you a Gamekeeper when you need to be a Poacher?

Sometimes you need a Gamekeeper and other times a Poacher. It's about creating a fit between you and the environment. The question is, are your beliefs, attitude, skills, knowledge, experience and talent optimal for the environment you work in?

A few years back, I worked with an agile innovation team within a large multi-national engineering company. Based in Germany, the team pulled the brightest and best talent from across the company with a remit to engage the workforce to generate ideas that could lead to innovations that enhanced the company's competitive position in the marketplace. However, the team was facing a challenge. 

After experiencing an initial influx of ideas, the well had quickly run dry; two years down the road and they found themselves at a point of crisis with the executive leadership team questioning their commitment and capability. The response was one of anxiety and fear, which stunted learning.

The team believed their problem was the employees; they didn't get agile or innovation and, subsequently, they didn't have any good ideas.

The reality was very different. You see, the agile project was full of gamekeepers when what it needed was poachers. 

The Gamekeeper and Poacher

Over the years, I have discovered that managers tend to be a blend of gamekeepers and poachers.

The Gamekeeper:

  • An experienced hyper-specialist

  • A linear thinker who detests messy problems

  • Protector and enforcer of structures, systems and processes

  • Trust the process - mistakes happen because someone didn't follow the rules

  • Thrives in certainty and has a low tolerance for risk

  • Predicts and measures success through Key performance indicators

  • Responds to challenges using tried and trusted methods

The Poacher:

  • An agile multi-disciplined generalist

  • A non-linear thinker who sees mess as an opportunity

  • Finds and selects the right approach for the job and will rapidly change if a given strategy isn't working

  • Mistakes happen because they got it wrong

  • Thrive in uncertainty and has a high tolerance for risk

  • Speaks about the probability of success

  • Responds to challenges by probing the environment, sensing and then responding

Being formed of Gamekeepers, the agile team in Germany didn't have the Beliefs, Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge, Experience and Talent (BASKET) required for the mission. The team needed to embrace the Poacher mimdset, taking an approach that allowed them to be Gamekeepers during the day and Poachers at night.

Engineers, accountants, Project Managers and the like tend to lean toward being Gamekeepers, and in complicated environments, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, the moment the environment tips toward complexity, the Gamekeeper tends to get outwitted by the Poacher.

Gamekeeper & Poacher BASKET Shortfalls

Recently, I have been working with a team of Project Managers from across Europe tasked with influencing the way people feel and think about electric vehicles. EU stakeholders were not happy with their performance because, after two years, the team had not achieved the impact they expected. 

At the heart of the dissatisfaction was a BASKET shortfall, where the teams lacked the variety of BASKET needed to create trust, influence and impact with their target audience. 

The team was full of brilliant Gamekeepers, who couldn't work out why people wouldn't subscribe to their rule-based approach to influence; they knew best because they were expert engineer Project Managers, and people should listen to the logic, their logic. They didn't grasp that whenever two people meet, whether to compete or collaborate, there is complexity - the relationship is dynamic, and outcomes are not predictable. 

The team needed to break out of its Gamekeeper sanctuary and learn to be Poachers. However, to do so, they needed to be learning agile and, unfortunately, they reinforced the need for a fixed mindset - the way of the Gamekeeper was the one true path.

Good Life + Work Project note

This article is not about Gamekeeper = wrong & Poacher = right.

The world needs both Gamekeepers and Poachers, but the message here is to choose the right manager(s) for the environment. Also, we want you to ask, as the environment changes, am I fit enough to pivot and thrive; can you be a Gamekeeper by day and a Poacher by night?

Insights: be aware of the opportuities created by your limitations

As a leader or manager, you need to be aware of the skills you need to motivate and develop a high-performing team.

To help, we have designed an Insight Space to help discover and develop opportunities in your skillset.

We also show you how to use awareness and understanding of who you are, and how you respond to change, to improve engagement, productivity, engagement, wellbeing and creativity as part of our Good Workshops programme. Get in touch if you would like to know more.

Dr David Griffiths & Julie Hayward


© 2020 THE GOOD LIFE + WORK PROJECT MANAGED BY K3-CUBED LTD   |  Registered Company Number (UK): 7424254

  • Facebook Basic Black
  • Twitter Basic Black
  • Black Instagram Icon