What Are Your Tribes?
Broncos, Seahawks. Democrat, Republican. Christian, Jew. We belong to ‘Tribes.’ The correct definition of this is a social group that preceded the “state,” small in size. The current use of the word is more of an ‘aligned’ group—somewhat informal with common interests and loyalty. Some of these ‘tribes’ are ok to talk about at work. Your sports team, unless it is the arch enemy of the prominent group’s team. Your hobby group, unless it is politically incorrect. Sometimes your tribe and your company are one—maybe Google is a tribe—but usually your tribes and your company are concentric circles with some overlap. Sometimes your team/project/department is a tribe within your company.
It is an interesting question why we feel so strongly about the interests of our tribe. This is probably one of the reasons that we don’t talk about some of this at work very often—religion, politics, gun control, abortion. If I find out that you are not IN my tribe in one of these areas, it makes it harder for me to work with you. Why is that? You are the same person you were before I found out that you have a view that I completely disagree with (outside my tribe). You are the same person. If I liked you (or at least was neutral) before, why does knowing that you are in another ‘tribe’ change my opinion so much?
What Do You Do About It?
One of the most important things to acknowledge is that there are tribes and there are tribes. Each of us has had the experience of thinking badly—ok, if you can’t admit that—not as highly of a group of people because of something. We applied stereotypes to them. And then you became close to a single member of that group. You made that person an exception. S/he was different from the rest of the group. S/he was an exception to all the characteristics you didn’t like/objected to. And so it was ok to like her. It was ok to think highly of her—because all that stuff didn’t apply to her. It’s as if we’re hard wired to think like this.
So, take advantage of the fact that we make exceptions when we get to know someone. Create more tribes. Create cross-tribe tribes that are based on something else—fun, work, teams, companies, hobbies, interests. Get to know people. Make them exceptions. Get to know people you admire. I once went out of my way to meet the two women who wrote a book, Success and Betrayal, that changed my life. Who do you admire? Who do you want to learn from? Who do you want to be like? Inside and outside of work—seek them out. Make them your tribe.
Eventually, you’ll see that the stereotypes you believe about certain groups are just that—stereotypes—not reality. People are individuals. They fall on a continuum. They are like others in their tribes in some ways and not like them in others. I’m talking about ALL kinds of tribes: religious ones, political ones, gang ones, 1% ones, creative, etc. It is insane to write off a person because they disagree with you on one continuum (or four). Find something to agree with them on. Get to know them.
We’ve moved past our caveman days. We need to interact with all kinds of people. If you want to have career success—I mean career SUCCESS then all kinds of people have to want you to succeed. Success doesn’t just come from the quality of your work. Sure, you have to have that, too, but someone has to want to move you up the organization. Someone has to want to buy your product. People have to help you succeed. Your tribe.
Some great books about Tribes:
- Moral Tribes, Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Green
- Smart Tribes by Christine Comaford
The Dark Side of Tribes
Tribes are the way we interact, but there are some tribes that can get in the way of effectiveness, and therefore get in the way of your career. Be on the lookout for these. Sometimes a department is a tribe—a silo—and it is in the way of optimizing the whole organization. This can bring you down as well if you are too closely aligned with the silo. You can be too closely aligned with the boss, or with the industry or with actions of a group. You need to pay as much attention to that as to aligning with better tribes.
Understanding tribes and how you interact with them can give you a new set of tools to improve your career.