Good tribal leadership brings high performance
I want to help you to grow your mindset and share my passion for impact. Thus, in this blog series I have hand-picked the bestselling publications and essential managerial tools. This enables you to make a sustainable renewal to your business and personal life. The goal of this first season is to build a common body of knowledge and starting platform for you. Depending on your experience with the subject matter, some of issues represented might be obvious to you. However, try to dig deeper and connect any missing dots for your benefit. By reading further you will:
- save your scarce reading time on renewal, culture and the best performing teams
- extend your leadership toolbox to support your business decisions
- build your personal growth-mindset, required to excel as an evolutionary leader
Building Thriving Organisations
The topics of discussion in this blog and the related vlog are based on the contents and insights of two books covering the topic of new ways of working. At the same time, they look at purpose, leadership and culture growth in an evolutionary way rather than a quick win or action.
The first book “Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization” by Logan, Kingand Fischer-Wright was published in June 2011, however, its insights and the large study together with findings are still relevant today. The second book referred to in this blog is a brand-new book “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek which is influencing many business leaders and thinkers globally. In his book he summarises, very well, the leaders’ role in current organisations:
“Today´s leaders are not responsible for results, but responsible for the people who creates results”.
In the Tribal Leadership book, a tribe is defined as a group of 20 to 150 people in the same organisation working together. In the book´s context a small company can be one tribe, bigger companies are tribes of tribes. The upper limit of 150 reflects the Dunbar´s number1 which is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships – relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group.
Low performing organisations
As the basis of the Tribal Leadership book, there is an international long-term research project with 7000 respondents from 12 organisations which has been going since 1997 and continued up until the update of the book a couple of years ago. The findings are that culture evolution can be described in five distinctive phases in terms of behaviours, relations to people and language used. Note that at an organisational level, the stage defined as the one where the majority of its individuals saw them presented.
In stage one an individual is undermining oneself, feels alienated from others and uses wordings like “life sucks”. According to the study, 2% of individuals belong to this stage. In stage two one feels as an apathetic victim sees themselves as separate from other people and uses words like “my life sucks”. In the research, 25% of people studied belonged to this category. Stage three is all about me, myself and I. These 49% of people are behaving like lone warriors. They are seeking personal domination. The talk about how great they are and others are not. Stages 1-3 represented 74% of the people studied. However, according to the findings, this majority of the current workforce were not happy in what they have achieved or are doing and also organisations, where they acted, were low performing.
High performing organisations
High performing stages were stages four (22% of respondents) and five (2%) respectively. Stage four is about behaviours, putting emphasis on tribal pride, “we are great language” and stable triad partnerships. These triad partnerships are more efficient and innovative three-person relationships without titles or hierarchy instead of typical dual boss-subordinate relationships where there is always risk present if high trust has not been achieved. At stage five behaviour can be described as an innocent wonderment, the team is the smallest unit of relationships and people talk with terms like “Life is great”. At the end of the research in 2011, there were not so many high performing companies. However, when looking at the situation today, more and more successful organisations are heading towards the direction of stage five. Good often quoted examples of these organisations such as Zappos, Burzoog and Southwest airlines. The key seems to be able to shift the group´s behaviours, relationships and language from stage 3 to higher levels to gain competitive advantage and success. When you have assessed your current situation and stage, how can you leverage your organisation from low performance stage 3, to higher performance stage 4?
Tribal leadership in action
As a tribal leader you can give your support to move your people from one cultural stage to another. There is no fast-track or miracle. This must be done step by step, one person at a time. It starts with your willingness to change and grow your own mind-set. When ready:
- You need to show that individual success will not be enough to move forward You can help the person concerned by conducting an appreciative inquiry with him/her to clarify your expectations.
- You should assign individuals to projects that cannot be done alone. By doing so you show that you expect partnership creation and you encourage them to form successful triad relationships.
- You should elevate successful internal role-models as good examples (”we” focus instead of “me” focus, evidence in creating triads, celebrating group´s success). Mostly it is about walking the talk.
- You should have courage to drop your armour, normally with excuses of no time or blaming others for mistakes. You reveal your current behaviour for both good or bad.
- You should put emphasis on storytelling and be honest about your own transformation learnings. When daring to show your own vulnerability, people will follow.
- You should understand that real power comes from networks rather than knowledge. This is a growth mindset coaching matter, no more.
- You should be able to manage transparency. Concretely this is done to encourage your people to even, ”over communicate”, rather than thinking if something should be informed or not.
Evidencing tribal leadership success
When you want to move your organisation from stage three to stage four and take its organisational culture from low to high performing, how do you know you are on the right track? How can you be confident that there is progress towards better times and results? You will get insights just listening more actively your people. Some good findings and results present with most of the best performing groups are:
- When the secret of success was discussed, the language changed from I to WE
- People are forming TRIADS instead of DUAL relationships
- More things seem to be done in less time which were evidenced in lower operational cost and better employee wellbeing
- Negative communication around ”no time” and ”others fault” will stop
- According to studies, there was a minimum result increase of +30%
- Communication is more transparent, effective and frequent in your organisation
To conclude, in my opinion, there is now enough evidence that success becomes a reality in working environments where trust and psychological safety is present every day, in every encounter amongst people. The time for command and, particularly control is over. People have the full power to make or break organisations. Modern leaders have the responsibility to spark passion, give guidance, show caring, create flexible boundaries and take away impediments for their people in order to make them succeed. When your people succeed then your organisation will follow, not the other way around. This new brave new world requires a new type of leadership. In order for a leader to succeed, strong renewal and interpersonal capabilities, skills to connect people´s behaviours to shared strategic intent, and a personal commitment to life-long learning are the strong foundations of a personal growth mindset.
“Success is a journey, not a destination”
This was the last blog in this series on our Growth-Mindset Journey together. A new series will be published in late spring 2020. Meanwhile the Finnish audience can follow the podcasts on Employee Experience (EX) and Customer Experience (CX) released soon.
Jere Talonen – Your co-pilot helping you to bridge the gap between strategy, values and behaviours from the boardroom to the shop floor by combining EX with CX. In the blog series, he shares his learnings from a multi-industry international career extending over 20 years as a leader, entrepreneur, business coach & consultant, as well as an executive team and board member. Currently, Jere acts as Principal Consultant – Recoding Culture and the Future of work at Gofore Plc.
Organization Culture and Leadership by Edgar & Peter Schein
I want to help you to grow your mindset and share my passion for impact. Thus, in this blog series, I have hand-picked the bestselling publications and essential managerial tools. This enables you to make a sustainable renewal of your business and personal life. The goal of the first season is to build a common body of knowledge and a starting platform for you. By reading further you will:
- save scarce time reading about renewal, culture and the best performing teams
- extend your leadership toolbox to support your business decisions
- build a personal growth-mindset required to excel as an evolutionary leader
Our growth mindset journey starts with the book, Organizational Culture & Leadership written by Edgar Schein and his son, Peter. Peter adds some good insights to this fifth revised version of the “Bible” of organizational culture with his refreshed insights on the cultural effects of digitalization and questions the outcomes of the new era of business building, mostly on the “better faster” – mentality.
In my opinion, this book is the basic platform for us to better understand the underlying factors and motivations of organizations to operate effectively towards the same purpose and direction. The book is very hands-on with past cases corporate of culture evolution, successes, challenges and failures. These public and private organizational examples from the DEC Corporation, the Singapore Development Office and Ciba-Ceigy are still very relevant today, just place your 2020 organization´s name in their place and be surprised?
The basic findings, learnings and challenges of the book on the people side of business come back again and again. Maybe it’s because the common memory of humankind, especially in the business context, seems to often be very shortsighted and short-term gains driven?
Influencing, not commanding
Culture by definition according to Schein is challenging because it is an abstract, deep-wide-complex and multi-dimensional. It is always a group phenomenon, any kind of a social unit that shares the same interests and direction. The strength of the group´s culture depends on the length of time together, the stability of memberships in the group, joint historical learning experiences and emotional intensity described also as “togetherness”. The last depends on level 1 vs. 2 relationships that are explained deeper in the book. Concretely this means, for example, what a specific group like an executive team or a team of engineers have learned hands-on and concretely together to survive, grow, deal with the external world and to organize itself for the best outcomes.
According to many of the latest studies’ organizational cultures (including occupational sub-cultures) are, on many occasions, stronger than national cultures. However, macro-cultures should also always be considered in culture works with multi-national organizations or with any company with a multi-cultural workforce. With my own background in the global hospitality industry, this has already been the case for many decades. How about in your business and industry?
It is important for you as a leader to understand that you can influence the groups’ unconscious behaviour, but you cannot command it. Therefore, the time for command & control is gone and it might work only on crisis situations like natural disasters or ad-hoc difficult humane situations. Even armies are changing their organizational cultures from the old way of a chain of command & control to more open, self-directed and joint efforts with great success and better impact. Culture needs to be led.
Leadership needs to get involved actively in the creation of culture at each of the three stages of organizational cultural evolution from foundation to growth to maturity. Schein clearly identifies in the book these organizational culture and leadership stages with different types of actions, leadership styles, communication and the structures required for the cultural journey.
Three levels of culture
In the book, Schein defines the basic foundations to assess organizational culture. This managerial tool/model is like an iceberg where only level 1 is visible and two other levels are, at times, hidden underneath the surface. In order to understand well enough and be able to influence your organizational culture, you should be aware of all levels affecting from the past and now your working environment, resources and operating system.
At the tip of the cultural iceberg are the visible elements called artefacts. These are the tangible and ‘feelable’ structures and processes like brand, marketing materials, office spaces, uniforms etc. These include behaviours that can be observed, but which, however, are sometimes difficult to decipher for a non-insider. Therefore, do not jump too fast to conclusions on any organization´s culture based only on your subjective visual of the artefacts.
The first level under the surface is espoused values. These are ideals, goals, values, aspirations, ideologies and rationalizations which may or may not be interlinked to visible behaviours or artefacts. These are accepted and supported values which sometimes are not identical to the publicly stated or written ones.
The underlying assumptions are the deepest level of culture. They are ways to indirectly, in a hidden way, to confront, operate and appreciate other members of the organization. These are often unconscious and ‘taken-for-granted’ beliefs and values which are determined thru behaviours, perceptions, thoughts and feelings.
Learning oriented leader
I want to emphasize that no culture changes should be done just for personal managerial reasons or just for the sake of improving. On some occasions, the root-cause might not be culture-based at all.
According to my experience, cultural development initiatives always create some kind of hassle and frustration in any organization. In the end, every individual wants to know “what is in it for me?” Thus, any cultural development focus should always be clearly targeted to where performance should be developed. In order to do so, a real and clear concrete cultural problem should be measured, analyzed, synthesized and shared together within the organization´s proprietary words.
As a leader, you are mainly responsible that the strategy of your organization has a positive impact on your key organizational drivers. What is planned is done and materialized thru your actions, but even more important through your people´s results, motivation and performance. In order to make your strategy successful and live in everyday work life, you need to align it with the culture and get your people engaged. The key is to work on three levels of culture and get your people along in that work in order to show appreciation and trust towards them as individuals and experts. In my opinion, strategy is the guiding force, your common (and hopefully shared) direction and navigation map. The culture is the driving force and the boat engine, giving the right time and resources related pace. It always takes two to tango, you and your people together. Culture and strategy are mutually-inclusive elements – the heart and veins of your company – making or breaking your expected cultural evolution.
The culture evolution journey starts with every one of us. Edgar Schein concludes, very well in his book on learning-oriented leadership – “Know the cultures that are inside you”.
Key questions for you to consider to become a culture, conscious leader
- In a situation where there is a need for change, prior to acting, do you know enough about the espoused values and underlying assumptions of your organization?
- How do you build an engaged, growth-minded and strategically aligned organizational culture?
The next blog will be about the secrets of highly successful groups. Keep following.
Jere Talonen – Your co-pilot helping you to bridge the gap between strategy, values and behaviours from the boardroom to the shop floor by combining EX with CX. In the blog series, he shares his learnings from a multi-industry international career extending over 20 years as a leader, entrepreneur, business coach & consultant, as well as an executive team and board member. Sharing is caring. Currently, Jere acts as Principal Consultant – Recoding Culture and the Future of work at Gofore Plc.