Have you ever considered the possibility that the language we use in organizations can have a direct impact on the experience of an individual worker or larger group? How many times have you seen individuals or work groups that seem to exude a culture that undermines either their own stated goals or those of the organization as a whole? In what ways do they speak of themselves, their co-workers, and the work itself, and how has this correlated with their success?
Alternatively, have you seen individuals or groups within organizations that seem to “get it?” How do they speak about themselves and others, and what culture tends to form around them and spread to other parts of a larger organization?
Tribal Leadership, written by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, provides a framework from which to understand the various “tribes” in an organization and the cultural stages in which they reside. One of their goals is to educate leaders on how to take a tribe (or set of tribes, if in a larger organization) from one cultural stage to the next, until they align around core values and a noble cause. This is achieved both through providing specific coaching tips and through addressing how a leader and an employee can speak about themselves and others.
In the video above, Dave Logan discusses the various cultural stages. Does the following expression sound familiar? “I’m great… and you’re not” Well, in Dave’s “cultural stage” model that’s a classic “stage 3” cultural expression that often leads to people attempting to outperform one another. And while healthy, good-natured competition in organizations is generally a good thing, unhealthy competition can breed negative consequences.
The authors provide concrete steps to lead groups from stage 3 to stage 4 behaviors that focus on more positive, healthy work relationships, and emphasize a project focus that is bigger than one person can do alone. Substituting “we” language instead of “I” language can have enormous impact. It allows a stage 3 individual to focus on the success of the team. The authors write that “The essence of tribal leadership is building the “we,” and as a person does this, his [or her] influence, respect, and power increase[s].” They also emphasize that a tribal leader’s goal is to find those core values and noble causes that unite the tribe. How many of you have attempted to do this in your own workplace or as a consultant, or witnessed it being done?
If you’re an outside consultant using Appreciative Inquiry or other models that utilize the consultant-as-partner perspective rather than the consultant-as-expert, then you’re already working within a stage 4 culture framework.
Stage 4 can produce extraordinary results. Take a look at the success of Zappos.com! Is it coincidence that they’ve chosen to give away the audio version of Tribal Leadership for free? Zappos is an organization that has the potential to reach stage 5, and perhaps they have done just that. Stage 5 is exceedingly rare. The authors of Tribal Leadership believe stage 5 is “the future of business,” however it happens in limited bursts in the corporate setting. Its expression is “life is great,” and the people tend to form boundless networks of those who share their dream.
Stage 5 culture provides a level of performance that can make history. Have you seen this up close? It’s characterized by the unlocking of boundless potential and committing to something larger than the group would imagine is possible. We’ve seen it with Olympic teams and the authors’ research has uncovered it at times within business organizations. But they are committed to stabilizing business organizations at level 5!
For a moment let’s think beyond the level of any one organization. Given that we, as human beings, must take decisive collective action toward such complex matters as reducing global climate change and the stabilization of our global economic recovery, can we afford to wait for fleeting moments of stage 5 culture or shall we work toward it now? Recently CNN highlighted individuals who were called “Heroes” for their unwavering commitment to making a difference on this level. They think from Stage 5.
Many of you work with or work inside of large organizations. What are your experiences, both positive and negative, of the culture of your “tribe” or your organization, and what can you see as possible?