Tribal behavior

The label tribal behavior usually conjures up some rather negative thoughts about how humans act, especially as it relates to groups of people. But in his book Great Boss Dead Boss, Ray Immelman uses the tribal metaphor to reveal a wealth of insights on how to get people working together successfully.

06/10/2004


The label tribal behavior usually conjures up some rather negative thoughts about how humans act, especially as it relates to groups of people. But in his book Great Boss Dead Boss, Ray Immelman uses the tribal metaphor to reveal a wealth of insights on how to get people working together successfully. It's a book worth reading. (For more information, visit greatbossdeadboss.com .)

In the style of Goldblatt's The Goal , Immelman takes us through a mythical account of how a plant manager under extreme pressure saves his plant from closing. We even have a Noah character called Butch who mysteriously mentors our hero through the process. Along the way, we're introduced to a number of tribal attributes and dimensions and shown how they affect individual and group behavior.

The entire account is idealized, of course. And you may or may not buy into all of the tribal behaviors the author describes. I'm not sure I do. But the central point is so right on, so self evident, it seems to me, that it's a shame we have to be reminded of it: If you want to influence how people perform, you have to understand what makes them tick — both as individuals and as members of a group.

Immelman builds his case around values and security on both the tribal (i.e., groups, teams, departments, etc.) and individual levels. When security issues are satisfied, value issues become more important. Thus, the role of the leader is to raise the levels of individual and tribal security and then the levels of individual and tribal values. The highest performance is achieved, he asserts, when this is accomplished.

My interpretation here is far too simplistic. But you probably get the idea.

As I read through the book (and it's a quick read), I found myself saying, "I knew that." But then the realization came, "Yeah, but how have I used it?" And that's the author's point really. Learn to use these motivational tools, and you can progress to superior, even outstanding, results.

A lot of us are pretty good at reading individuals. We learn their personalities, their hot buttons, their turn-offs without much difficulty. We evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.

Most of us aren't so good at analyzing groups. Sure, we picked up some training in group dynamics somewhere along the way, but that training was probably long on labels and short on what to do with them. The training I had was interesting, but it never proved to be particularly practical.

Great Boss Dead Boss tries to overcome this gap by explaining the cause-and-effect relationships of motivation. It tells us that when you push that button you can expect this reaction.

There are hundreds of books on the market for helping us get the best performance from our workers. None is a panacea. None is a silver bullet. Most call to mind those insights we learned along the way from education or experience and then pushed to the recesses of memory as we dealt with more immediate concerns.

Perhaps the biggest insight of all is that we can make a difference if we consciously work at it.





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