Commentary, Technology & Science

Tribalism at work? You bet. And, it hurts us all…..

09.29.05 | Comment?

Before I get into the core subject material, I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you for all the feedback and encouragement offered from my inaugural blog entry. As such, here’s another entry to critique.

Over the last few months I’ve had the honor to lead CNS, a disturbing trend has become evident. I think the root of the trend has to do with trust and respect of one another at heart, and I think the only way to address it is with consistent results, actions, and some risk taking activity. The trend is what is known as tribalism. Tribalism is a naturally occurring phenomena around groups because at heart, people want to belong to something. However, in the corporate environment, it can be very disruptive.

Like everything, there are two sides to this behavior. Loyalty to a group is necessary prerequisite to achieve team results. However, when taken to the extreme, we see destructive results where group A is better than group B because they are [idiots|slackers|pick your reason]. In a certain sense, it’s natural. In real performance terms, it’s deadly.

Dr. Ann McGee-Cooper is a respected voice in a movement called “servant leadership” writes about corporate tribalism in the following article. I differ with Dr. McGee-Cooper on competition as being a “bad” thing, but I do think there are several excellent points raised in this work.

First, this behavior is driven from a fear or scarcity mentality. Let’s be real, Sun has been a rough place to work over the past few years as the company has reduced in size from $18B/year and 45,000 employees to our current $11B/year and 30,000 employees. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 33% reduction, 1 in 3, or our colleagues no longer in our community. The source of the fear and scarcity mentality is clear.

Second, people want to “belong.” Try as we may, we are at core thinking animals. If we look at examples in nature or of what we might term primitive human societies, the worst thing that can happen to an individual is expulsion from the group. No longer having an association with a community we value. As much as I despise reality TV, a great example of this is the TV show Survivor where the weak are voted off the island.

Finally, the key issue from my perspective is why we do what we do and how we can improve the situation for Sun as a group. This has to do with striving for a shared endstate or dream. If you ever wondered why I continue (and will continue) to start with the Sun vision, mission, strategy, and cause, it has to do with our shared sense of endstate and mission. If we all understand first what Sun, not CNS, not Services, not Software, is striving to achieve, we stand a better chance of behaving in a consistent manner where we can collaborate across natural workgroups to achieve the desired results.

I truly believe the following statement:

“We have met the enemy and they are us.” – Walt Kelly “Pogo” comic strip from the 1960’s

With our core mission in CNS directly linked to Sun’s success, our resourcing, the executive support and visibility, with the passion and commitment I’ve seen inside CNS, we’re poised to make a large impact for Sun. Let’s please approach our work with the view that we’re all on the same page, engineering or offerings, CNS or Services, Software or Marketing. We’re all trying to achieve the same end goal, create customer value that results in strong financial performance. This is the way out of the downward spiral and it requires a certain amount of faith to make it so. I ask you to please examine your behavior, keep conflict about the issues, do your job and trust others to do theirs, trust that we will make changes that lead to accountability and performance. Together, we can and will make a difference and see success.

At the signing of the American Declaration of Independence in the 1770s, Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying:

“We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”

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