Spring 2006

Patrick Lencioni Talks Turf Wars

Ending Turf Wars

Tribalism at Work

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: Book Review

Workplace Wars & How to End Them: Book Review

Newsletter Archives



Unify leadership around the issue. More often than not, team behavior echoes the beliefs and actions of leadership.

Breaking the pattern will require that key leaders agree that change is necessary, and to commit to support and sponsor the change. Assess the current state.

Invite input from members of all warring tribes to evaluate the situation. What is working well? What's not? What key issues need to be addressed in order to achieve success? Physically bring the tribes together. These meetings can promote understanding of common goals and challenges, encourage healthy debate on specific business issues, and foster cross-boundary planning and decision-making.

Elevate lines of sight. A significant amount of tribal behavior is due to missing context. I'm often amazed at how little understanding people have of the big picture in which their team operates. It is critical that all team members, not just senior management, be lifted up to the "10,000-foot level" occasionally to ensure that the whole business, and each team's role in it, is thoroughly understood.

Keep the customer front and center. Nothing helps teams transcend tribal behavior more quickly than looking at the business from the customer's point of view. The customer is often the first to notice that internal coordination is slipping. As you sponsor dialogue between parts of your business, consider inviting key customers into the conversation -- nothing will shine a brighter light on the impact of poor collaboration.

~ from San Antonio Business Journal by John Bradberry

Ending Turf Wars

by John Bradberry

'Tribalism' threatens workplace cooperation, customer service. A managing director at a local investment banking firm had reached the end of his rope when he called me for a consultation.

"John, you have heard about our reorganization," he began. "My team has merged with groups from two other cities. We came together with a lot of overlapping responsibilities and client relationships. We've been trying to get a handle on who's responsible for what.

"But instead of focusing on the huge opportunity for our overall business, the teams see each other as threats and competitors. Each city sees the others as inferior, and no real communication or collaboration is happening.

"Now some big deals have stalled because of turf issues. This is not how we used to operate, but we've slipped into rivalry and we can't break out of it. We have critical decisions to make and can't seem to agree on anything."

I recognized the symptoms all too well. This firm was caught up in an internal cycle of us vs. them behavior called 'tribalism.'

This occurs when group members so closely align and identify with their own unit that they see other groups or parts of the organization as competitors, obstacles or threats.

Based on my work with leaders from many organizations, I can report that tribalism is alive and well. And the financial and emotional costs are high.

The irony of tribal behavior is that it is rooted in one of our most positive human qualities -- an ability to identify closely with others and to form strong bonds of trust and loyalty within our families, peer groups and work teams.

But the darker side of this tendency is mistrust and even hostility towards outsiders -- perhaps those from different locations or levels with different roles and interests.


How can we recognize when healthy team spirit and friendly competition among groups has descended into unhealthy tribalism? If you are in doubt as to whether tribalism has begun to threaten the long-term success of your business, consider the following questions:

  • Are your customers experiencing gaps, errors or overlaps in service due to clumsy internal coordination?
  • Are your key managers focused on beating each other rather than beating the competition?
  • Are important business opportunities unexplored because of poor communication and collaboration across departments?
  • Is accountability for problem solving fragmented, where no one can get their arms around problems that cut across departments?
  • Do employees blame and point fingers across groups (sometimes in front of customers) rather than take accountability for improving the situation?
  • Is tension across parts of your organization hurting morale and causing talented people to leave?

* excerpted from San Antonio Business Journal, July 20, 2001

© 2006 Adventure Associates, Inc.