ENDING TURF WARS
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:
* excerpted from San Antonio Business Journal, July 20, 2001
© 2006 Adventure Associates, Inc.