How to Create a Natural, Tribal Workplace

Tribal Workplace

For my fourth and final blog in this series, C.A. Short Company asked me to discuss the single most important tip for activating an organization’s motivational engine. The engine was designed to function within a tribal setting, so creating such a setting is a MANDATORY first step for activating the engine.

Human beings, as you probably know, were nomadic hunter-gatherers for most of our existence on earth. We (Homo Sapiens) lived in tight-knit, wandering bands of 15 to 100 individuals for 200,000 years, and only became “civilized” relatively recently. Our tribal ancestors collaborated, developed survival technologies, shared ideas, and had each other’s backs while hunting Woolly Mammoths in the ice age. Tribal humans colonized the planet and became the Earth’s dominant species. If we want to retain this special status, we’d better re-learn how to function as a collaborative, connected tribe.

Sadly, modern humans are like fish out of water. When you take a brainy primate designed for an intimate, tribal environment, and thrust it into an impersonal world with too much complexity, too much technology, and too few connections, something is going to break.

Perhaps this is why half of us will struggle with a mental illness, why modern societies are plagued by epidemics of stress, drug abuse and crime, and why only 34% of employees in the U.S. bring their “A” games to work (Gallup).

The modern workplace is not tribal or connected. Most workplaces are boxes occupied by individuals who don’t really care much for each other. According to Gallup, only 20% of employees dedicate time to developing friendships on the job. This is unfortunate since employees who reported having a “best friend” at work were 70% more likely to be engaged in their jobs (Gallup).

They were also more productive, treated customers better, were more innovative, and experience fewer on-the-job accidents (Gallup). In other words, connected humans work more effectively than disconnected ones. If we can build workplaces with more interpersonal connections, knowledge and energy will flow to where they are most needed—just like the flow of information in a computer network.

The engineers who designed the modern workplace did not take human nature into account. They devised an unnatural system of coercive rules, regulations, fear of being fired, and money to get things done. We need to correct their mistake by creating tribal workplaces that are more personal, more connected, and more focused on serving the greater good. Let’s call this connected approach, “natural management,” because it honors who and what we are.

I’m not suggesting that we revert to living in Yurts in the wilderness or give up our modern conveniences. However, there are many ways organizations can encourage employees to be more social and collaborative, and less competitive.

Enlightened companies attempt to “wire” people together with interpersonal connections by sponsoring sport teams; scheduling company parties, outings, cruises and picnics; and celebrating successes. Some forward-thinking companies even build socialization spaces into their buildings—like the café inside the entrance to Best Buy’s headquarters.

These approaches to relationship-building are helpful, but inefficient. There is a more systematic approach called “mutual mentoring” that is described in Chapter 4 of my book, Primal Management. Dave Logan, a business professor at USC, describes a very similar approach called “triading” in Chapter 10 of his book, Tribal Leadership.

You can get a free, electronic copy (pdf) of Chapter 4 by selecting  the button below. 

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In conclusion, if we want to lead happy, productive lives, we MUST belong to a tribe, we MUST master its survival skills, and we MUST cooperate as a cohesive unit. These parameters are rigorously tracked in the brain, and we pay a high price, in the form of low self esteem, depression and mental illness if we ignore our tribal, connected heritage.

Paul Herr | Owner at Paul Herr Consulting

About the Author
Paul Herr | Owner at Paul Herr Consulting

Author of “Primal Management: Unraveling the Secrets of Human Nature to Drive High Performance.” Paul helps organizations design and execute workforce solutions that tap into the passion, creativity, and commitment of their people. With over 16 years of experience supporting organizations achieve amazing results through employee engagement, leadership development, and talent management.

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