The Path Forward: Assessing and Diagnosing Tribal Culture for Better Workplace Collaboration

Casey Fenton

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September 21, 2023

As an employee, you aren't merely a cog in a machine, but a vital part of a rich, vibrant tribal culture within your organization. Grasping the essence of this tribal culture is crucial, not just for your personal growth, but also for the collective success and progress of your tribe, your organization.

Let’s unpack the intricacies of assessing and diagnosing your organization's tribal culture. We'll talk about the dynamics of transitioning between tribal stages, shedding light on how to maneuver through the inevitable resistance and manage change effectively. You'll gain insights into leadership practices that ease the journey to higher stages.

There's also a powerful technique that awaits you near the end of this article, a secret that could revolutionize your tribe's transition.

Intrigued? Let’s get started!

Understanding Tribal Stages: A Crucial Step

Embarking on a journey to understand tribal stages is like peeling back the layers of an organization's culture. It's like delving deeper into the psyche of your tribe, revealing insights that help you engage better, perform better, and most importantly, feel better. 

Before anything else, let’s map out the tribal stages, discuss how you can diagnose your current stage, and explore the importance of transitioning between stages.

What Are Tribal Stages?

Think of tribal stages as different levels of cultural maturity within an organization. Typically, they are categorized as stages 1 through 5, each with its unique characteristics:

  1. Stage One: The “Life Sucks” Stage. This stage is often marked by despair and negativity. It's as if a dark cloud hangs over the tribe, draining energy and stifling growth.

  1. Stage Two: The “My Life Sucks” Stage. Here, individuals may feel as if they are victims of circumstance, even though they acknowledge that others around them might be faring better. The dark cloud persists, but it's more localized.

  1. Stage Three: The “I'm Great (and You're Not)” Stage. This stage is characterized by lone warriors who wrap themselves in silos of expertise. While their skills may be formidable, their lack of collaboration and inclusivity creates a disconnected tribe.

  1. Stage Four: The “We're Great” Stage. Finally, the clouds part, and the sun begins to shine. People come together to achieve common goals, fostering a sense of shared accomplishment and camaraderie.

  1. Stage Five: The “Life is Great” Stage. This is the ultimate stage, where the focus is not just on local success, but global impact. The tribe is not just surviving; it's thriving.

Diagnosing Your Tribal Stage

So how can you determine your tribe's current stage?

It involves keen observation of behavior, attitudes, and language within your organization. Pay attention to how colleagues interact with one another, how challenges are dealt with, and how people perceive their roles and responsibilities.

It's like being an anthropologist within your own tribe, studying its culture, its habits, and its rituals.

Why Transition Between Stages?

You might wonder, why bother transitioning between stages? The answer lies in the fundamental premise of evolution - adaptation for better survival and success.

Moving from one stage to another is an organization's journey towards a healthier, more collaborative, and more productive environment. Higher stages experience more effective problem-solving, increased morale, and overall, superior performance.

Now that we've laid the groundwork, let's delve deeper into the challenging yet rewarding journey of transitioning between stages, and how to deal with the inherent resistance to change.

Navigating Transitions and Managing Resistance: Your Roadmap to Change

Transitioning between tribal stages is like embarking on a challenging yet rewarding expedition. As with any journey, you'll encounter some obstacles along the way. One such roadblock is resistance to change.

But don't worry, we've got you covered. Let's equip ourselves with the right navigation tools and strategies to understand, identify, and overcome resistance.

Identifying Resistance

Picture yourself as an explorer, charting an unknown territory. You're vigilant, observant, and ready for any challenges that come your way. 

Similarly, being able to identify resistance is crucial when managing change. Resistance can be a chameleon, manifesting in various forms, from outright defiance, like persistent negativity or refusal to engage, to subtle sabotage, like missed deadlines or decreased effort.

Some signs of resistance could include:

  • Decreased productivity or performance
  • Increased negativity or cynicism
  • Withdrawal from team activities
  • Frequent absenteeism

Recognizing these signs early can prevent them from snowballing into larger issues that could derail your transition journey.

Overcoming Resistance

You've identified the resistance - great! So how do you deal with it?

Think of this as your survival toolkit for the expedition:

  1. Clear Communication: Just as you'd need a map for your expedition, clear communication provides direction for your journey of change. Share the reasons for change and its benefits to dispel fear and confusion.

  1. Active Involvement: Imagine going on an expedition where only the leader makes all the decisions. Not very motivating, is it? By involving employees in the change process, you foster ownership and buy-in, mitigating resistance.

  1. Adequate Training and Resources: Equip your team with the right skills and resources to navigate the new reality. This could mean training sessions, mentoring, or even workshops to tackle specific challenges.

Facilitating Change

Now that you've got your toolkit ready let's talk about implementing the change. Successful change management is akin to a well-planned expedition. It's about having a structured approach that encompasses planning, communication, and continuous support.

Remember, change is not a destination you reach but a journey you undertake. Just as an expedition progresses one step at a time, so does change.

Each small step, every minor victory, leads to steady progress. Celebrate these small wins, support each other during setbacks, and most importantly, keep moving forward.

Now that we've mastered the art of navigating transitions and managing resistance, let's shift our focus to leadership practices that can make this journey smoother. 

Leadership Practices that Smooth the Transition

Just as a seasoned captain navigates a ship through turbulent waters, effective leadership can guide an organization through the storms of change and transition. Leadership isn't just about charting the course; it's about making the journey smoother for the entire tribe. Let's dive into some leadership practices that can turn the daunting task of transition into an exciting voyage of growth and collaboration.

Encouraging Collaboration

Imagine a ship where each crew member works in silos. The ship may still move, but without a unified direction.

Leaders, as captains of the ship, can help transition to higher tribal stages by fostering a culture of collaboration. This unity can turn a drifting ship into a force propelled towards a common destination.

How can leaders foster collaboration? Here are a few ways:

  1. Team Projects: Encourage projects that require team members to pool their skills and ideas. It's like getting the crew to work together to steer the ship.

  1. Open Dialogue: Facilitate communication channels where everyone feels heard. Consider this as the crew meeting where all voices matter.

  1. Inclusive Decision Making: Implement processes where decisions aren't just made at the helm, but involve input from various team members. It's about making the crew part of the navigation process.

Leading by Example

A captain who works alongside the crew, shares their trials and tribulations, and celebrates their successes often earns the crew's respect and loyalty. Leaders who embody the values of higher tribal stages inspire others to follow suit. They aren't just commanders but companions in the journey of transition.

Leading by example could mean:

  • Adopting a humble, servant-leader mindset, where leaders serve rather than rule. They aren't on the captain's deck but right there with the crew.

  • Celebrating team successes. It's about acknowledging that every member of the crew contributes to navigating the journey successfully.

  • Promoting a culture of learning and continuous improvement. It's about ensuring the crew is always ready, always improving, and always growing.

Facilitating Personal Growth

A captain who invests in training their crew equips them to handle any storm that comes their way. Similarly, leaders can facilitate personal growth by offering opportunities for skill development and professional growth.

Leaders can demonstrate a commitment to moving the entire tribe forward just by investing in their team members. This could mean mentoring programs, providing learning resources, or creating an environment that encourages curiosity and innovation. It's about ensuring every crew member feels empowered and equipped to contribute their best to the journey.

With the right leadership practices in place, transitioning between tribal stages becomes not just feasible, but a journey worth embarking on. But there's one more secret ingredient that can supercharge this transition. Let’s talk about that next.

Equity Compensation: Your Secret Power for Smooth Transitioning

Picture this: you're a crew member aboard a ship, battling waves and winds to reach a far-off treasure island. Now, imagine if you knew that a part of that treasure will be yours once you reach the island.

Motivating, isn't it? That's precisely the effect equity compensation can have on your tribal culture. But what does it actually mean?

What is Equity Compensation?

Equity compensation is like a treasure map in an employee's hand. It's a form of non-cash pay that represents ownership in an organization.

Instead of just regular wages, employees receive a piece of the company's pie. This could come in the form of stock options, restricted stock units, or other equity instruments. In essence, employees aren't just workers on a ship; they become part-owners sailing towards a shared goal.

How Equity Compensation Facilitates Transition

Why is equity compensation a powerful tool for transitioning to higher tribal stages? Well, it's like giving every crew member a vested interest in reaching the treasure island. Equity compensation aligns individual interests with organizational goals, creating a synergistic effect that propels the ship forward.

Think of it this way:

When employees hold a stake in the company, their personal success becomes intertwined with the company's success. It fosters a “We're Great” mindset, boosting the transition from stage three to stage four.

Equity compensation is like an investment in the crew's commitment and motivation. It incentivizes performance, encouraging individuals to contribute their best to the company's success.

Equity Compensation and Culture

So how does equity compensation contribute to the tribal culture? Consider this: when every crew member knows that part of the treasure will be theirs, it not only motivates them to row harder but also to work together. When employees share in the company's success, it fosters a sense of ownership and commitment that propels the tribal culture to higher stages.

Equity compensation can contribute to an environment of:

  1. Collaboration: When success is shared, working together becomes the norm, not an exception.

  1. Shared Success: Celebrating organizational wins becomes more meaningful when every employee is a stakeholder.

  1. Mutual Growth: With individual success tied to company's success, personal and professional growth becomes a shared journey.

Remember, transitioning between tribal stages isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. It's a voyage, filled with learnings, growth, and the promise of a better, more collaborative work culture.

Final Thoughts

As we dock our ship at the end of this enlightening voyage, it's important to reflect on our journey and the treasure trove of insights we've gathered. 

Understanding and navigating through tribal stages isn't an easy row to hoe. It's akin to navigating through turbulent seas, occasionally battling storms, and sometimes sailing under clear, sunny skies.

But remember, every ship, no matter how big or small, goes through these journeys. What matters is how well we sail and how prepared we are for the journey.

Navigating through the stages of tribal culture might present challenges, but it also offers immense opportunities for growth, collaboration, and unity. With awareness, dedication, and effective leadership, transitions can be more than just shifts; they can be avenues for profound organizational growth and personal development.

As members of this tribe, we're not merely passengers on this ship. We're active crew members, each playing a part in steering our course, shaping our culture, and consequently, charting our collective future. Just like the treasure that becomes more valuable when shared, our collective success multiplies when we all work towards a common goal.

Equity compensation, our secret power revealed, is a testament to this principle. When every crew member is a part-owner, the success of the ship becomes a personal endeavor.

It's a powerful driver that fosters an ownership mindset, reinforcing the “We're Great” and “Life is Great” stages. It's more than a financial incentive; it's a bond that ties us all together in a shared mission.

So, let's embrace this journey together and work towards a stronger, healthier, and more robust tribal culture. Together, we aren't just a crew; we're a tribe.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Casey Fenton

Founder, Upstock & Couchsurfing, AI and Equity Innovator

Casey Fenton, the founder of Upstock & Couchsurfing and an AI and equity innovator, has revolutionized how we perceive and implement equity in the workplace. His foresight in creating platforms that not only connect people but also align their interests towards communal and corporate prosperity has established him as a pivotal figure in technology and community building. Casey speaks worldwide on topics including ownership mindset, worker equity, With Upstock and Couchsurfing, he has demonstrated an unparalleled expertise in harnessing technology for the betterment of community interaction and organizational benefits.

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