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Why We Are A Tribe

I have been wondering about something and I think today is a good day to ask Anne why she talks about the folks she works with as “the Tribe.” I have even seen some T-shirts with “Dunvegan Tribe” printed on them.

I found Anne looking out the window and asked if I could interrupt her. She turned around and smiled as she said, “Of course, come on in Edna.”

Anne waited expectantly while I hopped up on the guest chair; she raised an eyebrow to invite me to start the conversation. So, I got right to the point, “Why do you call the folks around here the Dunvegan Tribe instead of Team?” I asked.

Anne took a sip of her coffee before she started to explain, “We adopted the tribal culture back in 2008, even before Seth Godin published his book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us,” or Clint Bruce, retired Navy Seal, started talking about the importance of thinking like a tribe rather than a team, or Tribe Model Management emerged in Agile Project Management.”

“As has been our history, we have evolved at a rapid pace; we have innovated to continuously improve. We stay ahead of the curve as we endeavour to be the best we can be.

A team is a group of people who all work together towards a common goal."

Typically, team members each have a specific role to play and depend on each other to "play their position." The goalie is not expected to play forward; the back catcher is not expected to play third base. “When all team members work well together, each playing their own role well, the entire team works effectively. When one of the team members does not play well, the entire team performs poorly.

“Often that poor performing team member is ejected and a replacement brought in. This is deemed to be best for the whole team.

“About the beginning of this century, the idea of “high performing teams” emerged as a best business practice. High-performance teams are “tight-knit, focused on their goal and have supportive processes to surmount any barriers in achieving the team's goals.”

“The high-performing team starts out relying on a single leader and evolves into a self-directed team where leadership is participative – where participants rotate into the leadership position depending on the needs of the team.

“We were already rotating various team members through the full range of roles which gave everyone the opportunity to grow their leadership skills and the opportunity to be better followers. There were various functional teams all “self-directing,” the company was highly productive, and we all looked forward to coming to work.

“When one of our team members was losing her eyesight, I was proud to see her team rally around to support her (and we provided visual support tools) until she could get scheduled for surgery.

“Then came the economic downturn of 2008; like many companies, we were contemplating layoffs. We pulled the entire organization together to discuss the situation. I wasn’t surprised when the teams proposed that they share the reduced amount of work available, to continue meeting our clients’ expectations, reduce our expenses and make sure that no one would lose their job.

“That’s when I decided that we are more than a team, that we are a tribe."

“A tribe is similar to a team in that everyone works together towards a common goal. Unlike most teams, however, beyond the common goal, there is also a shared heritage among tribe members - a shared set of values, rituals and beliefs that go beyond the rules of the game.

“Tribe members are committed to the health and well-being of every individual member of the tribe, as well as the survival of the tribe as a whole.” “When one of the tribe members is not performing effectively, (an)other tribe member(s) step in to carry the responsibilities of the poor performer until a resolution is found (as in supporting our co-worker who became visually impaired). When their contribution is not needed in their area of expertise, tribe members pitch in and help where they are able (as in sharing the work available).

“The tribal council determines the best course of action - support and training, change position or discipline; ejection from the tribe is the last resort. “I am sure you can see why I believe we are a tribe.

"The Dunvegan Tribe shares values, beliefs, and rituals. We have a shared heritage including our own language and our own mythology. We all support each other and care for one another's well-being beyond our shared goal of success as a business."

“Because of our tribal culture, it is extremely difficult to let tribe members leave us - whether to move on to a new challenge by choice or because of other circumstances. “When tribe members move on to new challenges, we wish them well and encourage them to find joy in their new assignment. We miss them. “When tribe members move on because of other circumstances, we support them and encourage them as they seek alternate employment. And we miss them too. The Dunvegan Group's tribal culture is a key strength. Tribe Dunvegan is committed to the organization's success overall, as well as to the well-being and success of each individual member. We have all exerted extra effort to fill the gap when one of our tribe members was unable to perform whether due to personal illness or family challenges. We volunteer information and help to assist others in developing new skills and mastering new tasks. “Does that clarify it, Edna?”

I quickly nodded and replied, “I am sure it is our tribal culture that makes us unique and it will sustain us through these challenging times."

Does your organization have a tribal culture?

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