We’re social creatures. All of us. Introverts, extraverts and every other ‘-vert’ within the social spectrum — we need other people. Not in the least do we need them to keep existing as a species, but other than that do we naturally crave the recognition of others. We gather, we communicate, we argue and compromise, all in search for recognition. Certainly, nuance is necessary when we address the extent to which we need other people. Some more than others, of course. But compared to other species’ social lives, we probably take the crown.
Fortunately, we’re generally quite good at managing relations and dividing attention. We need to be; we depend on it. Especially when it comes to work. After all, the success of a company is the sum of its people. A group of people that grinds each other’s gears equals a dysfunctional company. A group of people that completes the circuit, however, equals a highly functioning business. And happy employees. The work tribe may therefore very well be the secret to personal and collective success.
Tribes in business
Our social tendencies result in a great preference for work that is 1) fun to do, and 2) comes with nice people. All additional perks and benefits aside, work becomes more fun when you’re surrounded by ‘your people’. Your tribe.
Tribes in the workplace are nothing new. Our recognition of them, however, is. In recent years, research surrounding this aspect of work has intensified tremendously, exploring and testing the potential of tribal leadership or workgroups based on tribal fundamentals. It’s the natural formation of tribes underlying the principles of tribal elements in business. Fueled by positivity, unity and support, tribal principles have the potential of leveraging small project groups or large organizations from within. The historical functions of tribes — having a collective goal, keeping each other alive, acting as one — to some extent still apply to today’s business landscape. Diverging interests and negativity stand in the way of collective success, not to mention the damage done to progress when different types of people are forced together to make an entity.
Naturally, not all work tribes hit the mark of optimal productivity. There’s potential in solid work tribes, the realization of this potential, however, relies on several factors.
The true tribal leader
Work tribes thrive on decent leadership — not just proper management but the ability to provide a team narrative. Creating meaning is one of the most important roles of a tribal leader; in order to steer a team in a desired direction, shared goals and meaningful contributions are necessary. A tribal leader is therefore demanded to create a prevalent storyline; manifest a common ground; tie together different personalities; defend and protect the tribe as befits a true chief. Therefore, ‘traditional’ leadership qualities, such as accountability, commitment and confidence, are supplemented with primitive skills including the ability to cultivate resources (the team’s talents) and creating the myth of a people (a shared narrative).
Knowing people and their unique qualities is of great importance to the tribal leader. To understand that a tribe does not equal a team by definition is just as essential. Cross-team tribes exist, perhaps even in greater numbers, and determine a significant part of the company culture. They decide whether newly implemented policies become successful, whether a new CEO will have the prevalence needed to run a business or whether a change in working methods will be accepted. This is often not a matter of conscious decision making; instead, it’s the dynamics of a tribe, or multiple tribes, within a business that affects the shape and form of teams, policies, management and culture.
Recognizing the power of tribes, finding strength in different personalities and knowing how to create a narrative around them, might therefore be the basis for true tribal leadership.
Find your people
Being part of a work tribe could benefit your work greatly. Some might even say the work tribe tops any other aspect of work in contributing to your happiness as an employee. But how do you know you’ve found your tribe?
Judging from the principles of group formation, the process is for a large part based on a natural succession of things. In your search for a company that fits you, look for norms and values. We are naturally inclined to propel towards people that uphold the norms we set for ourselves. Opinions may differ but as long as core norms and values align, work tribes can be formed.
Keep in mind that ‘your people’ might not necessarily be the people that share your interests, opinions and views. A tribe solely consisting of one specific personality type will probably not function as well as a tribe consisting of multiple personalities that strengthen each other. Alongside a solid tribal leader, you need communicators, caretakers, analysts and go-getters. You might run into some difficulties dealing with a diverse bunch, but the quality of your work will benefit from having the right people in your tribe. There’s truth in the age-old ‘opposites attract’ cliche; ‘your people’ might not align with your viewpoints at all. In fact, they might hold completely different beliefs altogether. They do, however, challenge you to refine and perfect the work you deliver, simply because they provide different perspectives to your familiar. And that’s valuable.
The power of a work tribe
Being part of a high-functioning and positive work tribe will not only benefit your work, it will also contribute to your wellbeing in the workplace. It’s no surprise that being socially active and belonging to an entity bigger than yourself is bettering you as a person. In fact, it’s the number one survival strategy.
So give in to your natural instincts and find your work tribe. Go out into the business jungle and gather the people that you just click with, within your team or beyond.