Lead by example and have pride in the tribe
Tribe. Is there a more collective and at the same time divisive word?
A tribe is viewed, historically, as a social group existing before the development of or outside of a state. Many anthropologists use the term tribal society to refer to societies organised largely on the basis of kinship. Today we're going to understand the idea of a tribe in the workplace, sort of like an expanded team.
Don't think of "Tribe" as a contested term with a negative connotation. This should not be seen as a divisive or ancient concept. Tribes organise links between families (including clans and lineages), and provide them with a social and ideological basis for solidarity. They are clearly bounded, homogeneous, parochial and stable.
Given this, we would be wise to consider their value in the workplace. In fast-growing environments that are full of first generation corporate citizens, we need the magnet that holds together the workplace. We face turnover rates that are too high and too many employees only working for themselves under the auspice of a corporate enterprise. We need tribes in the workplace.
A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political or even musical (think of the Deadheads). It's our nature to want to belong. So use your business as the place to create belonging.
You have to understand the difference between individualistic cultures and a group-orientated culture. Geert Hofstede's culture dimensions reveal the differences between the West and the emerging markets as they score at polar opposites on individualism, with the West scoring high on this value. The emerging markets are personal rather than process-driven. The idea of "team" as we know it is the individualistic culture's attempt to be collective and collaborative. But oftentimes, the forced working together is nothing but a surface attempt.
Coming from collective cultures there is a high desire for "belonging" - being connected to one another - and to the achievement of accomplishing something together. Leaders have the perfect environment to provide the belonging, to build the tribe.
My college roommate used to say: "Your reputation is everything - all you've really got is your name." This is individualistic thinking. In a collectivist culture, and as a tribe member, you have more than your name. You have the tribe's name. The tribe is a reflection of you and you reflect it.
In the emerging markets, if you want to achieve maximum organisational performance and keep employees, you are going to have to be collective rather than individualistic in nature. The rhythm of life in the emerging markets is built through relationships.
The beginning point in creating a workplace tribe is to shift the accountability from individual accountability to mutual accountability. Most performance management systems and managerial styles promote individualism. Key performance indicators are assigned and monitored at the individual level. The shift needs to be towards organisational commitment to a common goal, set of performance goals, and approach with all tribe members holding each other mutually accountable.
Leaders lead when they take positions on issues, when they connect with their tribes, and when they help the tribe connect to itself. The over-popularised leadership ideal of teamwork needs to be redefined in the emerging markets. Not only do you need to be good at working with others, as a leader it is your role to build the tribe.
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center
Published: August 5, 2013 04:00 AM