iSixSigma

Understanding the Five Stages of Tribal Leadership

Most practitioners – even those with successful Six Sigma deployments – need to stand back periodically and reassess their continuous process improvement (CPI) efforts. Does information flow freely among team members? Are conflicts being resolved effectively? Does each team member feel valued?

This need for Lean Six Sigma teams to refuel, refresh and recharge is the central theme of the upcoming iSixSigma Live! Summit & Awards event, Feb. 7-10, in Miami. One of our General Session speakers, Dave Logan, an expert in cultural transformation in the workplace, will discuss ways to recharge CPI deployments in his address, “Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization” (9:00 to 10:00 a.m., Wed., Feb. 9, 2011), based on his best-selling book of the same name.

Every organization, Logan says in his book, is made up of “tribes” – groups of between 20 and 150 people who share a common culture. These tribes, he says, have more collective power to make a difference than the organization’s CEO, or any other leader. To understand how tribal leadership works, organizations must first recognize the basic types of groups that form naturally in any company by the way the groups interact with each other. Starting from the very bottom and working toward the pinnacle of work culture, Logan has categorized these tribal relationships into five basic stages:

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Stage 1: “Life Sucks” – The people in this stage believe that life is inherently unfair and full of despairing hostility. To reach this point, they have systematically severed all relationships with other functional tribes and gravitate to their own dysfunctional units. Fortunately, Stage 1 applies to only about 2 percent of today’s American workforce.

Stage 2: “My Life Sucks” – This tribe does have some hope, but they also believe that they are not valued for the work they do and tend to blame the boss for every problem. Some of the best organizations in the world are still plagued with this attitude, Logan says. About a quarter of the workforce is currently in Stage 2.

Stage 3: “I’m Great… (And You’re Not)” – This tribe, at first, seems to be functional, with most individuals having a high regard for their place in the organization. However, many of them complain that they’re doing all the work. They form “dyads” – one-on-one relationships between two people – and have little communication beyond that. “Stage 3 hits home for most of us,” Logan says. “You find this behavior in most places where smart, successful people show up.” About 48 percent of the workforce is in Stage 3.

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Stage 4: “We’re Great” – In this tribe, the group has reached “an epiphany” about communication and unites around a core set of values, Logan says. The key difference form Stage 3 is that the dyads become “triads” – groups of three people together with shared projects and common values. “Triads are the building blocks of Stage 4,” Logan says. Information flows freely through networks and innovation is highly encouraged. Roughly 22 percent of the workforce manages to reach this highly functional status.

Stage 5: “Life is Great” – As good as Stage 4 can be, there is room to go higher still. Stage 5 is occupied by a select few organizations that are so innovative that they have created entirely new market opportunities, allowing them to embark on history-making projects. “These are the tribes that end up changing the world,” Logan says. Not surprisingly, only 2 percent of organizations reach this lofty position.

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For the nearly three-quarters of the workforce in Stage 2 or Stage 3, the question then becomes, “How do you raise your tribe from one to the next?” The answer is to change the tribe’s attitude one person at a time by encouraging individuals to use the language of the next higher stage. During his iSixSigma Live! address, Logan will describe examples of how his proven tribal leadership techniques have helped companies rise through the various tribal stages and increase their productivity.

Logan will also be on hand after his address to sign copies of his Tribal Leadership book for General Session attendees.

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