A Downside to Building Tribes

Seth Godins Tribes
Seth Godin's "Tribes"

I am a huge fan of Seth Godin’s book Tribes. It is an amazing read and the team dynamics he describes are incredibly powerful. For those of you who have not read the book, Godin focuses on the power that comes in building great teams, teams that go beyond what most of us are used to. He talks about the importance of assembling people and developing an almost cult-like passion among them for whatever your cause may be (be it business, non profits, or something just for fun).

Tribes are far from the norm, though in the future, building these types of teams will definitely help the best businesses differentiate from the pack. Just look at the success that companies like Zappos, Google, Apple, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Disney and Starbucks have enjoyed. Each of them have done this by placing a big emphasis on their most important asset – their teams.

Tribes come in all shapes and sizes. A tribe can be a small group of like-minded individuals who want to make a difference in the world. Just look at all of the pockets of support Barrack Obama was able to build as he first began he run for the presidency. Tribes can focus on seemingly strange (yet relatively important) issues. Consider the many Trekie conventions and Star Wars fanatics around the world. I used to know a guy that was so fanatical about Star Wars that he had the Jedi code tattooed to his forearm. Now that’s a tribe!

Tribes are an amazing phenomena and leaders who can build tribes are a gifted few. But I do want to share a brief cautionary note about tribes from my own personal experience. I share this story not to dissuade you from building your own tribes. Please build them. They are powerful and can make all the difference in creating a better world. I only want to share this story with you as something to watch out for as you build your tribes.

I work for an amazing leader. A few years back, he was given an almost impossible task. Regardless of the difficulty, he took the challenge and began building an amazing team of people to help him get to where he knew we needed to go. He built a tribe.

A few months ago, he was promoted and asked to build a bigger tribe. As he moved away from our team, a new leader was appointed and this is where you must be cautious as you build your tribes. Tribes are fiercely loyal. They believe in their cause with all their heart and when the tribe encounters changes, whether it is in its leadership structure, philosophical base, tactics, etc., they may resist the changes being made. This is because the tribal leader has built a powerful world view among the tribe and as Godin points out in another book (“All Marketeers are Liars”), you cannot change someone’s worldview.

This poses an incredible challenge for tribal leaders. How do you go about making major changes to your tribe? It can be done, but remember there will be some major heartache created among the team as you do. And sometimes you just have to make the changes even though the tribe might experience some angst. That’s not always a bad thing. In fact, if done right change can actually bring the team closer than it has ever been.


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