The Power of Tribes in Agile Organizations

The Power of Tribes in Agile Organizations

Social and digital is accelerating the service economy transformation in our world. In the service economy, the competitive advantage is knowledge (including skills and expertise) and connectivity (access to resources – technology is the enabler). At the individual worker level, professional development is naturally gravitating to these two attributes.

We are now in the age of the networked knowledge worker. You and I are more or less already a networked knowledge worker.

Meanwhile, innovate or die from obsolesce is the reality that organizational leaders face today. And the world is now way to complex for a single master mind leader to know what to do. Survival of the organization depends on how well leaders can tap into the collective intelligence and drive of today’s networked knowledge worker.

Tap into, like how?

One insight for the new, agile organization is to follow the amorphous nature of the knowledge workers’ networks, often showing characteristics of a tribe.

Follow, is the keyword, as tribes are:

  • informal
  • social
  • organic
  • emergent
  • distributed

The interesting thing about tribes, is that it is also a culture. And as organizations are a collection of sub-cultures, tribes can often be accommodated in organizations without formal reorganization. In fact, that’s even more recommended: start with acknowledging and accommodating tribes in parallel to the de facto organization structure, then from the learnings of the tribal behavior of people, adapt the organization structure to the reality of team work as a matter of evolution. Reorganizing teams into tribes in one-go is risky: “big-bang” agile organizational change often end up in “waterfall agile.”

Whether or not formally or informally accommodating tribes, it’s time for enterprises to evolve from the traditional vertical, hierarchical organization. The world is changing. Customers are changing. Our ways of working is changing. The organization needs to change too.