A tribe is “any group of people, large or small who are connected to one another, a leader and an idea,” wrote Seth Godin in his best-seller Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.
Traditionally, tribes tend to be ethnic, political, religious and cultural.
Tribes exist in organizations too.
For example, consider employees who care deeply about social responsibility, environmental issues and work/life integration. They band together to volunteer their time, energy and resources to make a difference.
The trends that have been enabling formal and informal organizational tribes to form faster and grow larger are building momentum.
Robust social networks, flexible, cross-functional work teams and growing trust in peers (“employees like me”) over executives: they all contribute to the popularity and power of tribes.
Leaders need to take tribes seriously. Rather than ignore or fight tribes, leaders should seek out tribe leaders and their members to listen and engage on strategic issues.
In other words, consider the tribes as potential advocates—assuming the tribe leaders and members are amenable. Their support can help you influence other key stakeholders, probably more effectively than senior executives.
As reported in the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer earlier this year, we’re experiencing a serious crisis of confidence in leaders, both business and government.
The traditional pyramid of authority with its top-down edicts doesn’t work anymore, according to the report. Instead, we need to operate more inclusively.
This means inverting pyramids that encourage more real-time, peer-to-peer dialogue and actions.
The dialogue and actions lead to positive organizational change. In “Change Through Smart-Mob Organizing: Using Peer-by-Peer Practices to Transform Organizations,” I describe three case studies featuring a union, a manufacturing company and a retailer. (I contributed this chapter to the new book, The Change Champion’s Field Guide: Strategies and Tools for Leading Change in Your Organization, which John Wiley published earlier this month.)
Yet, we need to be skeptical about embracing all tribes just for the sake of inclusion.
For example, consider one of today’s fastest growing global tribes—the “heads-down tribe.”
Heads-down tribe members are “smartphone addicts who are susceptible to traffic accidents, physical illness or psychological disconnection,” as described by doctors and researchers.
These tribe members move and text at the same time, putting themselves and others in danger.
No kidding! Over a 48-hour period last week, I had two near misses with tribe members in different geographies.
A tribe member in a Cincinnati office almost walked into me as she was checking her email.
Then as I turned the bend on a winding Berkeley road, I almost drove into a tribe member who had stopped on his bike in the middle of the street to look at his phone, hopefully for directions rather than a Facebook poke.
Does anyone claim to lead the heads-down tribe?
Other tribes are able to offer tribe leaders and members development opportunities that positively affect them and their organizations.
Just be careful of the Border Collie and sheep-like behavior pictured above, which are about as dysfunctional as the smartphone addict behavior.
Border collies, considered the workaholics of the dog world, love taking control to herd sheep, cows and people.
As for sheep, Seth Godin calls humans who ignore leadership opportunities “sheepwalkers.” They fight to protect the status quo and never question whether their obedience adds value.
So put down that smartphone and embrace tribes.
What tribes can you involve to help improve your organization’s performance?