We read often about new open inclusive organizational cultures. it is the smart choice when you go agile.

“Tribes” is a word that is often used in those literature about organization. It’s trendy! But what do they mean by it? Do they use it like the term is used in anthropology? And does it works?  

But what do they mean by it? Do they use it like the term is used in anthropology? And does it works?

In anthropology we find different definitions of tribe. I ‘ve chosen this one.  

“Tribe is a notional form of human social organization based on a set of smaller groups (known as bands), having temporary or permanent political integration, and defined by traditions of common descent, language, culture, and ideology.”

We all are born in a tribe, a human social group, which explains the world around us. It gives us  provides us with frameworks of thought and norms and rules. In fact those framesworks and his artifacts, we can refer to as culture.

The 3 cultural revolutions and the unification of humankind

We observe 3 mayor cultural revolutions within history, which influences the characteristics of the tribes. ( Yuval Noah Harari)

Cognitive revolution.

Through interaction, the internal bounds in a human group, are strengthened. With in teh nomadic culture language was developed to exchange information and gossip. The probverbial emotional bank account was born. Among 150 members, you actually don’t need any real rules and codes. Stories created the collective memory. Thanksto the belief in these mythical stories we could work togetherin larger groups. Most institutions are born in collective fantasies.

Agrarian revolution.

The population grew. Many people became sick because of unilateral food consumption. It was not possible to go back to the old way of nomadic existence. The group had become too big. The necessity ” to plan ahead” became important. Food surpluses have been saved or traded, there were exchanges between groups. Extensive partnerships were established. People started to find ways to remember the amount of food they sell or bought. The written word gain of importance. A new power factor is born! We found new ways of collective memory, new mythical stories were needed. People spoke about “the fatherland”, alliances were built. 

Animism disappeared and has given the way to monotheism. Monotheism directly confirmed the hierarchical structure between people. People gave meaning to the world and created order, hierarchy. Those who’ve written the story had the power. Order and hierarchy ensure that people, who do not know each other, know how to act without having to waste energy getting to know each other personally. 

unification of humankind

Yuval speaks of the unification of humankind. With this he means the trend towards political and economic interdependence. For centuries, the majority of humans have lived in empires, and capitalist globalization is effectively producing one, global empire. Money, empires and universal religions are the principal drivers of this process.

Scientific revolution.

The world population explosive increased. People doubt the existence of God. Again power plays an important rol, scientific research is funded by political, religious or economic interests. Every person moves in a complex whole of imaginary orders, myths and stories.

Modern tribes

People are still looking for a tribe, where they can feel safe and secure. Where everyday things such as food, seks, stories and meaning make a difference. We remain group animals that want to form coalitions.
Virtual tribes are being created. The fancy and hip loose-fix relationships (co-workingplaces, whatsapp groups, … ) provide security. The modern tribe is often a combination of off and online relations. People are members of multiple tribes. This becomes more and more complicated for individuals. Those tribes have different stories and myths. Today we often have to adapt to reconcile opposing truths. This modern tribes, those modern open systems, are in contrast with the closed traditional tribes. 

Characteristics of modern tribes:

  • porous borders and multiple partnerships, typical for network- economy/ network organizations
  • simultaneous on and off line
  • dynamic, fast and flexible forms of organization. Little hierarchy. Being focused on co-creation
  • mutual trust
  • power shift no longer lies with who has the knowledge, but with who can combine the various areas of expertise and knowledge.
  • people need a certain order, so that the following rules arise:
    • transparency
    • ego-free
    • rational assessment of decisions
    • critical attitudes. looking for alternatives instead of own right ( ego)
    • tolerance and looking for divergent opinions
    • acceptance of unpredictability and change aimed at growth and innovation
    • strong autonomy and moral responsibility of all memers without leaning on a leader

Modern tribes search how to implement this leadership and form of decision-making. On the other hand, you can only keep a group together through clear frameworks and rules… 

The contradiction of a open, inclusive corporate culture

The new open inclusive culture means hard working, being honest and transparent, putting aside egos … being prepared to be touched. Learning to be comfortable with not knowing or not yet knowing and learning to cope with change. 

You can read a lot of management books about the new way of working and new leadership. We are overwhelmed with different organizational models such as Teal, Holocracy, Sociocracy, Semco Style, etc… They promise the end of miserably long meetings and everyone can use their talent. Everyone wants this but it doesn’t seem easy…

How come if everyone wants it, that this does not happen? 

The practice of labeling, box thinking, acting on acquired rights, double agendas, avoiding issues, gossiping … tribal thinking is slumbering. Anthropological needs, are being repressed, a taboo, but we still need them. If you don’t believe this take a closer look at how we react.

  • We yearn for leaders, who make decisions if we dare not make them. Someone who protected us. Sometimes we want to be free from any personal responsibility. We just want to be a follower.
  • Everyone wants to be recognized, receive compliments, get a pat on the back.
    The ego is playing.
  • We do not want to be the same as the others, no we want privileges.
  • We want to be part of something. Membership of a group which gives us security, safety through symbols, stories, … There is a “we” and a clear “they”. ( gregarian dimension)
  • We want to know what is coming our way, crave roles, rules and guidelines.
  • We are bored to death and want gossip. The ordinary is annoying boring. Let’s get rid of the rational decision making, make it emotional!
  • We want power and prestige without sharing. “Me, me me and the rest can suffocate”.
  • We seduce, flirt because we want to love, to have passion and sex. Throw away those competence profiles let yourself guide by looks and gut feeling.

… If we are honest then many do not want these open forms at all. Those basic principles actually are the opposite of anthropological laws and tribal needs. Those last ones tend to be closed systems.

“Express self” and “deny self” systems

I would like to refer to the work of Clare W.Graves. His intersectional theory speaks of an interplay between external environmental factors and internal human neural systems. Through this interaction, people develop new bio-psycho-social coping systems to solve existential problems and to process their worlds. These coping systems depend on the evolving human culture and individual development and manifest themselves at the individual, social and species level. Man tries to adapt the environment to the self, or man adapts himself to the existential circumstances. Graves called these “express self” and “deny self” systems, and the swing between them is the cyclical aspect of his theory. He sees this process as never ending.

The beauty of Graves’ theory is that it is interdisciplinary. Often innovation is born in intersection. Another one is that there is no hierarchy, it is a swing. Are we at the point where we can go one or the other direction? Will we adapt as human beings towards the new social order? Or will the social order adapt to our basic tribal needs? We live in exiting times…

Host Leadership 

Open systems, as self-directed organizations, usually have clear charismatic leaders or gurus.  People no longer feel safe, when the leader is mental or physical absence. “Feeling save” is one of the basic need for hunting and gathering, for working together as a team. 

Those new leaders have to find other ways to connect there people. 

In these open systems there is a strange paradoxical struggle. The struggle against new layers of management and the fact that people tend to develop rules and build in routine or predictability. This struggle must set limits and  be adjusted neutrally by various parties. The task of a leader is to keep up the team together.

We all know the “heroic leader” and the “servant leader” but I prefer the “host leader” ( Mark McKergow ). The Host leader is a great metaphor. I strongly recommend to read this article of Pierluigi Pugliese. In fact this form of leadership is contextual and the leader is a part of the group. He is supporting and supported. He can take different roles:  Initiator, inventor, space creator, gatekeeper, connector tor co-participator. This roles can be executed from different places:  on the stage, among the people, on the balcony and in the kitchen. This mental leadership matrix is a tool of reflection, of work.

Personally, I think that this open model of leadership is the one that can work also in the new tribes. Some requierements are needed:

  • don’t fix it to specific organizational roles;
  • the leader is open minded
  • the leader is flexible with the model,  the team  and with himself.


When developing open systems, one must start from the basic needs of the closed systems. From there on you create a system that is as open as possible in line with the basic corporate culture or purpose. There is no one way solution. 

As everything in life it demands: work, reflection and self-reflection.

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  1. […] eigen kennis en de collectieve kennis. Vertrouwen is een sleutelwoord en hoe krijg je dat in onze virtuele tribes, die als parallelle circuits onze werkelijkheid uitmaken? Hoe kunnen we deze spanning omzetten in een positief iets waar we collectief van […]

  2. […] The dimensions “time is money” and adaptation are an important engine here. There is a clear purpose. To make swarming your organizational structure and culture you need a clear goal. To set clear action goals it is best to have a clear mission, purpose. As long as the mission is not clear, transparent and supported, no swarming is allowed. Is it going wrong there? Or do we still carry a piece of “pride” [1]culture in our bodies? […]

  3. […] virtuele stammen gecreëerd, in crisis gebeurd dit vaak onderworpen door angst of onzekerheid. Mensen zijn lid van meerdere ( virtuele) stammen.  Dit wordt voor individuen steeds ingewikkelder. Die stammen hebben verschillende verhalen en […]

  4. […] To counteract these uncertainties, it is important that there is already a subculture within the corporate that has contacts with the ecosystem. Are new organizational forms an answer? I’m not sure… […]

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