How Tribal Leadership Affects the Health of Your Knowledge Ecosystem

How can you build a better organization in which the best and brightest people want to work together to make an impact? According to Dave Logan, the author of the New York Times No. 1 best seller “Tribal Leadership,” the answer is culture.

Culture is the product of the way people behave, communicate, and connect. Most leaders agree that culture is the critical factor in employee performance, but most lack a way to define it, measure it, or change it. This results in leadership frustration and cynicism, as well as decreased productivity and performance. However, those who successfully make a cultural change can achieve the impossible: out-innovating and out-performing the competition while establishing a place where employees want to and love to work.

To successfully make a cultural change, organizations must move through what Logan calls “The Five Stages of Tribal Culture.” In each stage, the tribe – in this case, employees – exhibits specific behavior and relates to others differently. Each cultural stage is more desirable and outperforms the previous one, with Stage Five being the most preferable.

tribal leadership

The graphic above explains the characteristics of each tribal stage, but here is a quick breakdown.

Stage One – Life Sucks

“Woe is me” is the tagline of this tribe. People in this stage feel slighted by what life has thrown their way and will do whatever they must to survive.

Stage Two – My Life Sucks

This tribe does the bare minimum to get by, displays passive-aggressive behavior, and demonstrates little initiative or passion.

Stage Three – I’m Great (and You Are Not) 

Forty-nine percent of organizations can be found at this stage.  Although the members of this tribe may listen closely and offer help, their goal is to appear smarter and better than others. Instead of concentrating on the success of the team, they possess a selfish mindset where winning is personal. People at this stage may also complain that those around them are not as competent or as committed as they are.

Stage Four – We’re Great  

At this stage, teams are a natural component of the tribe and people share a common purpose and set of values. Information moves freely through the group and the tribal language focuses on us, not me.

Stage Five – Life is Great 

This is the stage every organization wants to reach. Organizational learning and collaboration are effortless. The interpersonal friction of working together decreases, resulting in almost no fear, stress, or workplace conflict. The tribe realizes its limitless potential and has no doubt it will achieve amazing things.

These five stages affect not only company culture, but also the health of knowledge ecosystems. A knowledge ecosystem is a living community that grows and thrives through knowledge sharing. In every organization, there are people who ask questions and those who provide answers. These individuals can mostly be found in Stage Two and Stage Three. As stated previously, these tribes either do the bare minimum (ask questions without sharing their own knowledge) or only supply answers to look important. Although knowledge is being shared, the process does not ensure a sustainable knowledge ecosystem.

For a knowledge ecosystem to thrive, employees need to take Q&A a step further – they must build connections where they share what they know and learn what they don’t to collectively adapt to evolving needs and challenges. Knowledge sharing must be a cultural priority. Leadership must help employees transition from the earlier tribal culture stages and motivate them to create a company culture where knowledge sharing can flourish. The end goal is to evolve your knowledge ecosystem into Stage Five; an environment where every employee is a tribal leader. They celebrate the tribe’s common purpose and share knowledge, not to look better than their peers, but to make a positive impact and collectively achieve success.

Tribal Leadership is not about changing ideas or gaining knowledge; it is about changing language and relationships. The same attitude must be applied to the cultural changes made in your organization. Only when people build connections where they share, learn, and grow collectively can an organization establish a healthy company culture and, therefore, a sustainable knowledge ecosystem.

To learn more about Tribal Leadership, check out David Logan’s TED Talk.

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