Contributions can help ensure a professional tribe thrives

Karen Natzel, BridgeTower Media Newswires

There’s a buzz in my conversations with leaders about the need to create a culture of collaboration and teamwork in their organizations. I too hail these traits as predictors of robust organizational health. However, it seems these straightforward concepts prove tricky to manifest consistently. To achieve the kind of productive energy that comes from a highly collaborative team, an organization must create an environment for a tribe to thrive.


What makes a tribe?

For purposes of this column, my definition of a tribe is a cohesive group of people who, by their beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviors, have created a sense of community with a shared purpose. The members of this community inspire excellence in each other through a blend of challenge and support. In Seth Godin’s book, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us,” he states, “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”


Who is in your tribe?

Who are the people that you look to when you want to celebrate, or when you’re trying to figure out life? Who are the people in your circle you respect, admire and trust? Who do you consider your closest friends? These people are integral to your success, happiness and sense of fulfillment.

In the case of friendships (our personal, inner tribes), Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran writes, “Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.” Ralph Waldo Emerson also understood the tribal nature of friendships, stating “a friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him, I may think aloud.” A tribe is a place one can be authentic and accepted. But authenticity also requires courage and conviction. The allure of a tribe is the promise of fulfilling the basic human needs of connection and belonging.


Do you have a professional “network” or “tribe?”

Having hundreds of LinkedIn connections might make one well-networked, but it doesn’t mean one has a true professional tribe. As author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger said, “the danger of social media is that it doesn’t provide us with the community; only the illusion that it does.”

People need community. Without community, we are psychologically at risk, Junger says. He explains, “As societies get wealthier, people live more and more individualistic (and autonomous) lives, and that actually leaves them psychologically very vulnerable.”

For most of us, our professional tribe is not going to be as intimate as our inner tribe. That doesn’t negate the enormous value a professional tribe can bring. Having a professional tribe can transform the often humdrum experience of one’s livelihood into one of growth and satisfaction.

A tribe keeps us plugged into what matters to us; it keeps us accountable to the things we say we want to make happen in our lives and it generates a shared sense of accomplishment. The tighter the tribe, the more we feel connected, supported and inspired to contribute to its greater good.

“We evolve at the rate of the tribe we are plugged into,” Carolyn Myss says.

When I reflect on my professional tribe, there’s a diversity of personalities, strengths and experiences. There are engineers, artists, presidents, architects and other consultants; there are the structured and the chaotic, the planners and strategists, the introverts and extroverts, and the spontaneous, intuitive leaders. What unites us is a shared enthusiasm and expectation for doing excellent work and a willingness to be a resource to one another.
Your professional tribal members may be colleagues, supervisors, front-line workers, mentors, industry or community leaders or board members.

A colleague I hold in high regard and whom I consider a mentor, recently called me seeking my opinion on a sticky client situation. I realized in that moment that our past collaborations had solidified us as true tribal members – we share a passion for organizational development, we have complete trust to go to each other for confidential counsel, and we respect each other’s perspective for the sake of optimizing our service to our clients. Together we make the work more rewarding and more fun.

Most of us have been on a team that was firing on all pistons. There’s a certain excitement about that kind of creative and productive synergy. It’s dynamic and action-biased. There’s momentum and a sense of agency. There’s a knowing that you are in it together and have each other’s backs.


Leading the tribe

It doesn’t take a title to lead a tribe. It does, however, require belief in one’s shared purpose as well as demonstration of commitment, hard work and passion for the people and the cause. Build a tribe that is inclusive and empowering. Communication is not just about conveying a message; it’s about connecting with people, creating ownership and creating a buzz about what’s possible.

The enemy of the status quo is a motivated tribe with a purpose. The pull of the familiar can keep people playing small. It’s your job to make the journey worth it. If you choose to lead, give people a story in which to believe. Start building your tribe today. Strengthen the bonds of the team with candid conversations, spirited discussions and inspiration for the work. Make it a labor of love.

Regardless whether you’re leading a tribe or simply participating as a member, the more you contribute, the more rewards you reap. When the members of your organization operate as a cohesive professional tribe, they will naturally exemplify collaboration and teamwork – and your organization will thrive as a result.


Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or