Updated: Feb 18, 2020
Have you ever felt that there are tribes in your organization? In the decades of Project Management in different industries, I have felt and experienced just this thing. And yes, IT IS A THING! I do acknowledge that more tribes may exist and that it is not all or none. I am writing from my view, my truth.
So what does each of these look and feel like? Here is my take on two tribes that I have experienced, but let's first define some terms.
Competence: Someone who has they ability and knowledge to act effectively in a job or organization. Loyalty is earned.
Loyal: Someone who practices faithful adherence to a specific leadership. Competence is not required.
Tribe: A group of people in the same profession or organization
Tribe of Competence: A group of people who bond over knowledge, skill and delivery. They are life long learners. Their leadership is transparent and have high deliverable and professional standards for themselves. They use education, practice and mentoring to elevate each and every member. All members matter. Each member is responsible to actively participate in the betterment of themselves, others and the organization. Promotions and opportunities are open, likely competitive and are given to those who demonstrate their competence and have proven to elevate themselves and those around them. Because of this "level" playing field, all who want to work and learn are welcomed with open arms. You don't have to necessary like each other, but you bond over knowledge and respect each other's expertise.
When one succeeds, the entire tribe succeeds. When one member struggles, the entire tribe is there to support and help, as each member knows, the next time there are challenges, it may be them who need to help and support. Loyalty and trust is earned through active demonstration. It is not demanded nor expected.
Here are some key indicators of this tribe: Leaders and members actively promote education, evolve the profession and assign stretch assignments. They recognize and reward hard work even when it does not turn out at planned. Members celebrate all successes as their own. Learning is an open opportunity and expected. Members are recognized for their skills, contributions and moving the work forward on behalf of the tribe and stakeholders. They are exceptional coaches, collaborative with colleagues and peers and understand that evolution is the path to success. They reward the ability to highly perform in the profession. Even through struggles, this tribe tackles issues with transparency, trust and growth.
This tribe can be difficult at times, as they hold themselves to a standard of personal and professional growth. Missteps and failures happen but are not defeatist. You are expected to pick yourself back up (likely with the help of other tribe members) and go back at it. Bloody, hurting, learning and knowing that the next error will not be the same one you just felt, because you learn, share and evolve. You learn from your mistakes and the tribe holds you accountable. This tribe lives their truth, day in and day out with openness and transparency.
This is my tribe and I am fortunate and grateful to be a member. However, I struggle today because I am in an work environment that is a Tribe of Loyalty.
Tribe of Loyalty: This tribe is difficult for me to write objectively about and I have a lot to say. I have only what I can describe as a version of PTSD (Project Traumatic Stress Disorder) with this tribe. There may be value in this tribe, but I have yet to find it in the workplace. So here it goes.
To be in this tribe, competence is not revered, unchallenged loyalty is. You don't need to learn, perform or deliver, you just have to sell your ethics, don't challenge leadership, keep your mouth shut, create no tractability and follow; even when it is at the expense of others in and outside of the tribe. You "pull the party line", knowingly and willingly, in hopes that leadership will reward you with favoritism, accolades and undeserved promotions and opportunities. It is a culture of deception to get ahead. Power is gained through gas lighting, blaming and failing forward. Mistakes are not something you learn from, they are something you hide and blame others for. Successes are mostly fabricated as to actually succeed, you need to know what you are doing to deliver.
The Loyalty Tribe knows there are smarter and more deserving individuals outside their tribe and those individuals are considered direct threats. These "others" are actively dismissed, degraded, overlooked, shunned and even held in contempt. Why, because this tribe lives behind masks to cover their incompetence and deceitful methods and tactics. This tribe deflects, blames and undermines those who actually deliver. The live scared of being discovered and will step on and over any to get recognition on the way "up".
Here are some key indicators and behaviors if this tribe: blame others, leave projects, departments and organizations in disaster on purpose, they gas light, refuse accountability, have no documentation and leave teams demoralized. I refer to members of this tribe as "arsonist firefighters". They start the fires then sit back waiting for others to panic then swoop in and "save the day". They know how to fix the fire because they started it. All the while, those affected by the fire have know idea this "hero" is the one who caused all of the chaos and damage. They do just enough to keep their lies alive and when they are close to being exposed, they begin a campaign of deception, lies or leave. Leaving is the best thing that could happen, but in some organizations, these people actually get promoted.
Weak management creates and supports the loyalty tribe mainly because they are way in over their professional heads. They can't do the work that they manage so they have to "fake it" and create a narrative of deception and misinformation to appear to deliver. They are not able to deliver, so they must deceive. This tribe uses many destructive tactics like intimidation, bullying, gas-lighting and the list goes on.
If you are struggling to "fit" in your organization, if you feel that your hard work goes unnoticed or you are treated with contempt, you are not alone.
For years I was not able to articulate what was happening and why individuals with less skill, knowledge, education and experience were being promoted, paid more and given exclusive opportunities under the cover of darkness. Then the Tribe concept came to me.
I am drawn to those who love to learn, work hard at their profession and want to evolve. You find these people everywhere, but not always at your place of employment. So that is why i started this journey. To share, learn and evolve. I wanted to let others know that if they have ever been exposed to any of this tribal conduct, good and bad, have Project Traumatic Stress Disorder you are not alone and IT IS A THING!
Here is what this THING actually looks and feels like. This happened to me and I am proud to be a member of the Tribe of Competence.
When to Tribes Collide a real world example.
A loyalty tribe assistant leader (fairly new to the role) called me into the office to reprimand me for giving my Sponsor advice on a multi-million dollar Program that was not in line with what my direct management wanted. Our conversation began with this leader leaning over the desk in my direction and sternly stating "I think you forget who you work for!". Really? Yep that is exactly what they said, a Loyalty Tribe signature move: intimidation, verbal and non-verbal.
Direct management wanted to shove a sub-par solution through the process and down the Sponsor's throat so they could check a box on Schedule and Budget. As I worked closely with the Sponsor and built a relationship of mutual respect and professionalism, it was clear that their drivers were Quality and Scope. We know as Project Management Professionals, these are in direct conflict.
As a proud member of the Competence Tribe I answered, leaning back across the desk at them, "I work for my team, my stakeholders and my company. This management and my Sponsor's needs are in directly conflict I will not pull the party line of this management and the expense of my Sponsor". This is a direct example of a Loyalty Tribe leader demanding me to follow, wear a muzzle and demand to be loyal to their tribe without earning it. To be blunt, that is NOT GOING TO EVER HAPPEN! Not today or tomorrow.
As the intense conversation continued and we sparred back and forth, the loyalist realized that I was not going to budge. I would not be a victim and I certainly was not going to denounce my professional ethics to follow. The end result ended with a victory for my Tribe. The Loyalty Tribe assistant leader eventually backed down and agreed to let my Sponsor be responsible for their own destiny, not driven by a group that does not have to live with the results.
It did mean that that an RFP had to be rewritten and the Program re-scoped, which is the best thing that could have happened. The Sponsor got to take control of their own Program, creating their own measures of success around Quality and Scope and not subscribing to the "check the box" mentality and intimidation tactics of my direct management.
As I continue through this journey of life, I will remain open and curious to see where it leads. I love my profession and my tribe. I will continue to stretch the boundaries of professional and personal evolution and live and learn what my truth is.