TRIBAL is also a group of people


Nathan Lett
Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
MGMT 5320.W01: Organizational Behavior and Theory
David Turnipseed, Ph.D.
November 19, 2018

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Tribal Leadership
David Logan presented his definitions of the five stages of tribes in society and how people can use the tendency to form these tribes to further human progression in his TED talk entitled Tribal Leadership (2009). Logan starts his discussion by defining what a tribe is – a tribe is larger than a team; a group of approximately 20 to 150 people – and states that tribes are responsible for building societies, making extraordinary things happen, and getting work done (2009). He makes the statement that not all tribes are the same; they are defined by their culture (Logan, 2009). Furthermore, Logan insists that great tribal leaders work to nudge their tribes through the five stages of progression by focusing on the language their members use and the relationships they form (2009). Ultimately, Logan’s message is that a tribe with a progressive culture can become an impactful entity (2009).
A parallel can be drawn between a tribe and an organization. An organization is also a group of people that work together to make important and impactful events occur. Just like the tribal culture that Logan discusses (2009), organizational culture – defined by McShane and Von Glinow as the shared values and assumptions of those within a company (2018, p. 388) – gives shape to the company and directs those within to do things the appropriate way (McShane ; Von Glinow, 2018, p. 387). Logan describes a crowd at a football game as a collection of individual tribes assembled (2009). An organization can be similarly described as an assembly of tribes – divisions, locations, teams, etc. – with a collective goal.
Logan defines the five stages of tribes and states that the behavior of a tribe follows its perspective (2009). The first stage is the lowest in the hierarchy and is defined by individuals who perceive the world personally in an incredibly negative light (2009). Logan states that the general perception of Stage One tribes can be characterized by the statement Life sucks (2009). Logan argues that criminals and gang members are very much Stage One tribe members (2009). These members would all have the same conscious and nonconscious beliefs – shared values and shared assumptions as defined by McShane and Von Glinow respectively (2018, p. 388). They likely all believe that the world around them is a horrible place, that the only survival that matters is their own, and that illegal and unethical behavior is justifiable as a result. Gang members, as a specific example, would have tell-tale artifacts – observable symbols and signs of an organization’s culture (McShane & Von Glinow, 2018, pp. 391-392) – such as their own language, stories, initiation rituals, and even physical structures like hideouts that define the gang and its individual members. As Parrish summarizes, in an organization, Stage One tribe members are likely to come to work filled with hostility and despair (2017). Fortunately for society, Stage One tribes only make up about two percent of all tribes (Logan, 2009).
Stage Two tribes are those whose members have moved beyond the perception that life itself is horrible; instead, each member feels their life is horrible (Logan, 2009). Logan states that the general perception of Stage Two tribes can be characterized by the statement My life sucks (2009). As Parrish summarizes, members of a Stage Two organization can be viewed mainly as a collection of victims (2017), again sharing in the same values and assumptions as one another. Logan uses employees at the Department of Motor Vehicles as an example of Stage Two tribe members (2009). Parrish likens Stage Two members to the characters in the television show The Office, defining them as apathetic victims (2017). They are described as antagonistic, sarcastic, and resigned (Parrish, 2017). Logan states that innovation does not exist in a Stage Two tribe and that accountability is rare (2009). These behaviors and attitudes were likely adopted very early in the careers of these Stage Two tribe members and are the results of unrealistic and unmet expectations. As part of their organizational socialization, these Stage Two members probably obtained incomplete or incorrect information about their prospective job during the pre-employment step (McShane & Von Glinow, 2018, p. 407). Alternatively, their employer may have made promises that were not kept or fulfilled completely (McShane & Von Glinow, 2018, p. 407). Now, suffering from reality shock – the stress that results when pre-employment expectations and on-the-job reality are incongruent (McShane & Von Glinow, 2018, p. 407) – these members have turned bitter and resentful. As a result, the culture within a Stage Two tribe is likely that of counterculture – where members act in a way that opposes the dominant values of the organization and create conflict and dissension (McShane & Von Glinow, 2018, p. 391). Logan estimates that 25 percent of all tribes fall in this category (2009).
Stage Three tribes are defined by members who have moved past a negative view of the world; they now view themselves as intelligent and competent. However, as Logan states, this is at the expense of the recognition of the intelligence and competence of others (2009). In other words, Logan states that the general perception of Stage Three tribes can be characterized by the statement I’m great, and you’re not (2009). Parrish summarizes that these tribe members need to succeed, especially if it means someone else loses as a result (2017). Parrish describes these members as selfish – lone warriors – and generally loathsome of others because they perceive others as lacking equivalent ambition or skill (2017). Logan describes them as highly motivated, yet very self-centered (2009). While they generally are competent and do get work done, Stage Three members also tend to complain loudly in the process (Parrish, 2017). McShane and Von Glinow would argue that a Stage Three tribe lacks a strong culture. First, a Stage Three tribe lacks an appropriate control system – though there is an obvious, deeply embedded form of social control influencing their decisions and behaviors (McShane & Von Glinow, 2018, p. 395), it is highly negative and not conducive to success. Second, the social glue – the bonding force that makes people feel part of the organization (McShane & Von Glinow, 2018, p. 395) – appears to be non-existent. There is likely very little cohesion between individuals and groups and, as a result, individual values supersede the organization’s dominant values. Finally, the culture within a Stage Three tribe fails to be sense-making; in other words, employees are unable to decipher what goes on in other parts of the organization and why things happen (McShane ; Von Glinow, 2018, p. 395). As a result, members of these tribes fault others for failure and generate internal adversaries (Parrish, 2017). Logan estimates that roughly half of all tribes fall into this category (2009).
Stage Four tribes begin to transcend much of the politics and personal agendas that are hallmarks of a Stage Three tribe (Parrish, 2017). Parrish also states that Stage Four members reject anyone that still abides by these values and behaviors (2017). Logan states that Stage Four tribes value creativity, foster innovation, and have members with united values (2009). The general perception of Stage Four tribes can be characterized by the statement We’re great, and they’re not (2009). Stage Four tribes have external adversaries and tend to rise to the occasion proportionally with respect to the perception of their foe – the bigger the enemy, the bigger and more powerful the tribe’s response (Parrish, 2017). Parrish calls this tribal pride (2017). Parrish also states that Stage Four tribes are defined by how its members react to the health of the tribe; members feel pain and loss if the tribe is negatively impacted or taken away (2017). McShane and Von Glinow would argue that a Stage Four tribe has many of the hallmarks of a strong culture. First, the culture of the Stage Four tribe is likely highly aligned with its external environment – members’ values are congruent with the dominant values of the organization which is, in turn, also appropriately aligned with other stakeholders (McShane ; Von Glinow, 2018, p. 396). The culture is also likely adaptive in Stage Four, embracing change, creativity, and growth and possessing a strong learning orientation (McShane ; Von Glinow, 2018, p. 397). Finally, the strength of the Stage Four tribe is likely not the level of a cult; mental models remain open and fluid, members do not overlook discrepancies between the tribe, organization, and external environment, and the tribe does not suppress dissenting subcultures (McShane ; Von Glinow, 2018, p. 397). Logan states that approximately 22 percent of all tribes are Stage Four tribes (2009), and Parrish acknowledges that most Stage Five tribes often revert to Stage Four to recuperate and regroup (2017).
Stage Five tribes, then, represent the pinnacle of organizational culture. Stage Five tribes, as Logan explains, change the world and make history (2009). The general perception of Stage Five tribes can be characterized by the statement Life is great (2009). Stage Five members are highly innovative, visionary, and inspirational (Parrish, 2017). Parrish refers to the mood of a Stage Five team as innocent wonderment and states that the team that developed the first Macintosh computer is a perfect example of a team operating at Stage Five (2017). The road to Stage Five is incredibly difficult, and success is rare; Logan estimates only two percent of tribes reach and maintain Stage Five status (2009).
With the five stages defined, Logan proceeds to explain that the role of every tribal leader is to advance – nudge in his parlance – their members to the next stage (2009). Logan states that effective tribal leaders are those that are fluent in all five stages (2009). This trait is necessary because tribal members are only capable of hearing and understanding the stages directly above and below them (Logan, 2009). Successful tribal leaders are those that help their members form triatic relationships – relationships that extend the reach of the tribe (Logan, 2009). As Parrish summarizes the steps necessary to upgrade tribal culture from one stage to the next, relationship building is often the critical step at each point (2017). He states that Stage One members need to spend time with Stage Two members and distance themselves from other Stage One members (Parrish, 2017). Stage Two members need to be allowed and taught how to build one-on-one relationships with Stage Three members (Parrish, 2017). They also need to be assigned more short duration projects with higher chances of success that require little badgering or harassment to get done (Parrish, 2017). Stage Three members need to be encouraged to form three-person relationships, to work on projects larger than they can complete on their own, and be steered towards highly successful Stage Four members who have adopted the language of we as opposed to I (Parrish, 2017). Finally, Stage Four members will transcend to Stage Five when opportunistic behavior is encouraged, and their networks are cultivated to be highly diverse (Parrish, 2017).
These steps are analogous to the culture-changing and culture-strengthening strategies that McShane and Von Glinow highlight. They state that the actions of founders and leaders are responsible for defining the culture of their tribe or organization (McShane ; Von Glinow, 2018, p. 401). They also state that stability is essential as cultural changes take time (McShane ; Von Glinow, 2018, p. 403). They also agree that change and strengthening is possible in the adoption and retention of new members who share the values of the tribe or organization – the attraction-selection-attrition theory (McShane ; Von Glinow, 2018, p. 403) – something that can be done through the outreach suggest by Logan (2009).
In conclusion, Logan states that (1) we all form tribes, and (2) tribes can progress from one stage to the next, becoming more innovative and world-changing at each step, with strong tribal leaders who work to advance their tribe through building relationships. Logan’s talk hits home – after listening to his talk and applying the information from the textbook chapter, I have no problem assessing that my organization and the tribes within it are in Stage Three. Parrish indicates that Stage Three is marked with information hoarding (2017), something that the different divisions in my company engage in frequently. Those of us in the research side of the organization often do so with the best of intentions in our hearts; we often want to help the sales staff by saving them from themselves by not sharing too many details with them, even when those details might be the difference between a purchase order and the death of an opportunity. We often view sales as an adversary and work under the impression that our behavior is more in line with the dominant values of the organization than theirs, most likely an incorrect assumption. We do tend to be disappointed in the behaviors and actions of the sales staff stating that they should know better. While I do not necessarily feel like our culture drives us to root for their failure – their success is our success at the end of the day – we certainly do have our favorites and often comment on how life would be easier if this salesperson or that salesperson were no longer with the company. We have developed an internal language to describe people, and it is not always flattering. These are all hallmarks of a Stage Three team.
As a manager, I am compelled to act on this new information and be the kind of tribal leader that helps his tribe and those around him elevate to the next stage. Our company is very much on the threshold of doing something genuinely spectacular in the oil and gas industry – leading the move for operators to decouple. In other words, we are moving producers of oil and gas towards buying their chemistries and supplies directly from manufacturers – like us – as opposed to through service companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger who act as pass-throughs and mark these items up by as much as 400% in some cases. To remain at the forefront of this shift, we need to pivot to a Stage Four tribe and aim for Stage Five; we have plenty of external adversaries gunning for us and pushing for us to fail. We need to transcend past the internal politics and become truly cohesive to succeed.?
Logan, D. TEDxUSC. (2009, March). Tribal leadership Video File. Retrieved from
McShane, S. L., & Von Glinow, M. A. (2018). Organizational Behavior (8th ed.). New York, New York, USA: McGraw-Hill Education.
Parrish, S. (2017, February). Tribal leadership: the key to building great teams. Retrieved from Farnam Street:


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