I started reading Tribal Leadership a while ago, and wrote about my first impressions here.
To being with, the books emphasizes that if you change language, you change behavior, so it will focus very much on language. Beliefs, cognition and whatever else are therefore not addressed in the book, as they are not important for practical purposes, according to the authors.
The first key concept the book introduces is that of tribe, the group of people that makes change successful or not, no matter who mandates the change: even the CEO won’t be able to accomplish some change if the tribe decides it does not want the change.
This tribe concept is important for two reasons: first, it makes clear that we must collaborate with and involve people to get real change, it just won’t happen without them.
The second reason is that it acknowledges that organizational change affects and is affected by more people than we might think: simply put, a development team is not the unit of organizational change, so you better pay attention to the surroundings too.
While this is not very original, it is worthwhile to say it explicitly time and again. Now, using the tribe keyword is a way to avoid using organization or group, words that might lead us to old preconceptions, but I think there is not much else in the concept.
That of tribal leader is another key concept: a tribal leader listens for the cultures of the tribe and updates it to a higher level of effectiveness, doing the work for the good of the tribe -not his own.
The stage idea is the third key concept. The authors state that tribes exist at five different stages (levels) of effectiveness. Tribes and people at at a certain stage have a characteristic and very different way of speaking (language is powerful!), different behavior and different structures of relationship among them.
What’s more, what you need to do move to a higher stage differs according to the stage you are currently in, and there will be different leverage points that can be used to upgrade to the next stage. Do not try to apply the same techniques you used to move from stage 1 to stage 2 to move from stage 4 to 5. Besides, you must move from a stage to the next stage without skipping any: you just can’t move from stage 1 to stage 4 directly.
To me, this is the key idea in the book, one that is often overlooked: different levels of competency show different vocabulary and behavior, require different upgrade tools and techniques and come with different leverage points.
Most change models acknowledge the existence of several levels (stages), but not many insist on the need to use different leverage points to upgrade to a higher level. This can be a nice tool to add to your change toolkit.
A chapter is devoted to each stage: how to identify whether a tribe is at that stage as well as techniques to move to the next stage are discussed at length in them.
The five stages identified by the authors are as follows:
- Stage 1: tribes and people at this stage speak as if “life sucks”, behavior expresses despairing hostility.
- Stage 2: speak as if “MY life sucks” (therefore others might not suck), and behavior is that of apathetic victims.
- Stage 3: speak like “I am great”, with an unexpressed “-and you are not”. Behavior revolves around outperforming others and dominance, relationship are two sided.
- Stage 4: speak like “WE are great”, with an unexpressed “-and they are not”. Behavior radiates groupal pride, and relationships are three-sided.
- Stage 5: speak like “LIFE is great”. The idea of external enemy (you in stage 3, them in stage 4) disappears.
The meat of the book revolves around stage 4 (chapters 7 to 11), which is the higher for which the authors can provide advice. They discuss at length the need to identify the tribe values so that it is possible to get the kind of alignment that will make it much more effective, or finding a noble cause to unite the tribe, as well as many other issues.
To be fair, I liked the discussion on group values in Built to Last better, but that might be just me (see the More Than Profits chapter).
Now, let me tell you about the book’s weak points. First of all, the book is hard to read, requiring a lot of chewing. Of the last three books on change I’ve read, this was (by far!) the hardest one to read.
I feel that it contains a bit too much chaff, and that they could have done better with less pages. Half the pages would have worked.
Now, do I recommend the book? Well, I do, but be aware that it will be hard work. If you are short on time and are just curious about change, you might do better reading some other easier to read book.