The Trouble with Tribes

I wouldn't call myself an extrovert. Other people have - and do - but I think my outgoing nature only extends to certain areas of my life. I work from home, and I do so each day with only the company of my dog (who plays out in the yard most of the day) and my wife's cat (yes hers, not mine). You might be thinking “I can see how that would be lonely”, but I don't. I like working alone, I like not having a tribe.

You see, my trouble with tribes is that often it leads to entirely too many voices on any given topic. Whether any individual member of the tribe has any specific or useful knowledge on the topic seems to be irrelevant in most cases. Let me give you an example:

© Baltic Firewood 2010

Tribesman John needs to gather wood for tonight's bonfire. Paul says that the best wood is to the East. Mary disagrees and says the best wood is to the North. A tribe elder thinks this discussion is good so that we can determine the best location for wood in the future. The tribe leader asks George and Tony to join the discussion as they have both gathered wood before.

Okay, I think we've taken that far enough, but hopefully you can identify with the situation and some of its deficiencies. If I am John, all I want to do is go get some wood. And if there is no good wood to the East, then I'll go a different direction. And just because there was plentiful wood to the North in the past doesn't mean there will be now.

What does it all mean?

I'm not trying to say that there isn't benefit in hearing (and truly absorbing) the opinions of others; on the contrary, I think it is imperative to producing the best possible outcome. However, there is a limit. And all too often we ignore that limit and let things get out of control. I blame two people for the scenario above: the tribal leader, and John.

As the leader of a tribe - whether it be a primitive village, a company, a planning committee, or anything else - it is your responsibility to delegate tasks and ensure that those tribe members not only have all they need to succeed, but also are kept away from anything that will prevent them from doing so. But you can't always blame a leader for the failure of their followers; John should have taken control of his task and owned it. Owning a task means more than doing the work - you have to get input, organize that input, plan out your work, execute, deliver, and receive feedback. All of these are your responsibility and no one else.

So people, please, step up and control your tasks. And leaders, control your tribes.

Published on September 13, 2010