How would you rate the Agile tribe?

“If we understand culture better, we will understand ourselves better and recognise some of the forces acting within us that define who we are.” – Edgar Schein

Tribal Leadership Stages
Understanding some common patterns in group behaviour can help us identify options for introducing change in organisations. David Logan has done some research on this and has produced a useful framework for thinking about culture change. In his book “Tribal Leadership” he describes 5 stages that we progress through, characterised predominantly by the language we use and the view we have of ourselves, our team and others.

A few of us have been thinking about this recently in relation to the Agile Community. If we had a better understanding of what stage we are at, would that would help us to “upgrade” our culture?

Stage 1: “Life Sucks”

What dominates the behaviours and language of people in this stage is despair and hopelessness — not just about themselves, but everything around them. They think that they are different from everyone else, and to them, there are no solutions, there is just pain. Logan’s research estimates that 2% of professionals in the USA are here, which is still way too many people.

Stage 2: “My life sucks”

In this stage people have lost hope that things will change for the better, they’ve given up and just live with it. Their circumstances, workplace or society have ground them down and they correspondingly tend to wear a negative “black hat” about most everything. They may feel disenfranchised, lacking the power or ability to change the system they are stuck in. To these people, the boss, or some other distant actor in the system is “evil”.

You might hear people at this stage say things like:  “I have been there, done that and nothing has ever improved for the better” or ” We tried this before, it didn’t work, why try again?” The famous comic strip character Dilbert could be considered a good example of Stage 2.

Sadly, according to Logan’s research, quarter of workplace cultures in the USA are at Stage 2.

Stage 3: “I am great, you are not”

People operating at Stage 3 think positively about themselves and have found a group that appreciates their skills and talent. Unlike the previous stages, they do not despair about life as a whole, or their life in particular. In fact, they are quite proud of what they have achieved in life.

For people at this stage, knowledge is power so they tend to keep information to themselves — they want to be the center of and thus in control of the flow of information. As a result, these people tend to build mostly one-to-one relationships and avoid sharing what they know, unless there is a clear benefit for them personally. They may also feel the need to compete and outdo others, especially those they feel may be threat to their interests, attempting to “win” every interaction. You may notice that Stage 3 behaviour is often encouraged and rewarded by our education system.

Stage 3 is where most of us tend to get bogged down (49% in the US).

Stage 4: “We are great, They are not”.

Groups at this stage perceive themselves as being part of a group with a common purpose. There is a strong sense of belonging and identification within the tribe and they tend to be proud of what they achieve as a team. They work effectively as a team and each member of the group shares the same values and feels acknowledged by the rest of the group.

What is interesting thing about tribes at Stage 4 is that they rely on the existence (real or perceived) of a common foe. This brings them together and keeps them focused, a bit like Gargamel to the Smurfs.

Logan’s research suggests that nearly a quarter (22%) of our workplace tribal cultures are at this stage.

Stage 5: “We are great, so are they”

Very few groups manage to reach this stage. Logan suggests that only 2% of workplace cultures in the US get to this stage. To describe this Logan says:

“Their language revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history – not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact”

This group’s purpose is much greater than merely defending themselves from a perceived enemy. They intend to really push the boundaries of what’s possible, and in Steve Jobs’ words “make a dent in the universe”. Unsurprisingly, these groups make the best innovators.

What stage is the Agile community at today?

We probably all have our own opinion about what stage the Agile tribe is at. The point of sharing is to make ourselves more aware of where we collectively think we are today. We spend so much time and effort looking at teams and organisations and the working with them to help change and “upgrade” the culture. Perhaps it would be useful to also look at our community? Share your view below…

How would you rate the Agile community?

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What could we do to “upgrade” the culture of our community? Share your ideas in the comments below…

For more on Tribal Leadership, try these:

Ted Talk by David Logan

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging natural groups to build a thriving organisation
Portia Tung: Tribal Leadership – create the place where you long to belong


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