Tribes – The Way to Compete

circle_of_feetSocializing is an important aspect of being human. It goes a long way back throughout the human evolution, having people organized in tribes for the common purpose to survive. Nowadays, collaboration has similar dimensions. Knowledge sharing is fast, including a whole range of tools and means, from web collaboration frameworks, like wiki; social networking to live video sessions. Actually, there is no excuse for not doing it.

Nowadays, my impression is that people have a tendency to group smaller tribes. Agile teams are good example. More and more they become cross-functional, gradually extending their ability to work end-to-end. They meet daily to collaborate, brainstorm, do pair-programming, share the ideas and artifacts, i.e. they learn together, and they are getting more and more efficient in all this. However, as we get pressured with different deadlines with a constant change of business dynamic, it seems that communication, collaboration and engagement with others (other teams) have been set as a lower priority. Sharing and learning is focused (and limited) within a team borders.

Since we learn as individuals and acquire knowledge, and we just said that we more and more learn within teams, we need to learn as a whole organization/company as well. We have different programs or domains that span over a number of teams. Sometimes they work together on a feature and the work is scaled. Efficient delivery of such features is dependent on scaling, i.e. learning, collaboration and sharing information and knowledge. One of the examples I witnessed was about the setup of Scrum of Scrums. If each of the teams nominates its representative (trying to avoid Scrum Masters and Product Owners) in one-level-up Scrum, it needs to make sure that the person ‘feels’  the same level of confidence and safety to share, learn and contribute as in her/his own team. Daniel Mezick, in his book “The culture game”, calls it tribal learning. In the Lean world, this is called Yokoten – the process (obligation) to horizontally share when something new is learned. Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright in their book Tribal Leadership – Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organizationdescribe the thinking model and possibilities to build tribes. They commonly describe tribes as a relatively moderate number of members – up to 150 where they can unite for a common purpose. Competitiveness of your organizations depend on possibility to scale, build contemporary tribes. Of course, culture is the part of it, so you may want to check the previous post about it.


The Hardest Thing – The Culture

“What is the culture in my company now?
How well is the culture aligned with Agile?
What problems can I expect due to misalignment?”

With these powerful questions Michael Sahota writes about cultural models in his book “An Agile adoption and transformation survival guide – Working with organizational culture“. To my taste, he well chose the William Schneider’s model illustrating an organizational culture:


Every company has a dominant culture with ingredients of other cultures, especially the neighboring ones. Diagonally located cultures rather collide than complement each other.

The agile culture resides on the left side of the diagram, supported by values like partnership, collaboration, trust, purpose, creativity, experimentation, diversity…

The control culture is characterized by the formal power, process, hierarchy, order, rules, stability, security, standardization…

The competence culture, to my opinion, can be a big trap for leaders and organizations transitioning to Agile. It suggests expertise, specialization, efficiency, craftsmanship, achievement, results, being the best…

Nothing is wrong with that. But, it is not about being the best – it is about becoming better every day. It is about sustaining the culture (and the structure) of constant learning and improving the organization as a whole. Then, the competences are a logical outcome and a beneficial consequence.

Specialization is valid. Becoming an expert and doing the good work is expected. However, if a team or other individual depends on us, our personal expertise, our information and our knowledge, we make the system fragile and vulnerable in a particular point/person. Without collaboration and cultivation, without horizontal sharing of information and learning together, we preserve the heroic culture, the culture of strongly self-oriented individuals and the culture of vertical communication. Here, the vertical communication means the interactions mainly towards supervisors and subordinates, rather than peers. Instead of concentrating the ‘power’ of knowledge in individuals, by sharing, we need to use and motivate every single beautiful brain in the organization and give out the best of it.
Agile principles make this trap visible. This trap is the real test for agile leaders in which, unfortunately, many fall.

The cultures clash in their values and behaviors, striving to prioritize and put different things in focus. The control culture is a culture of things that is still dominant in many organizations (see this post!), not just business organizations, but also social, society and governance institutions. Collaboration, together with Cultivation, is the culture of people, and if those two caltural characteristics prevail, Agile may reach the tipping point and cross the chasm on the agile transformation curve:


The managers/leaders play the essential role in shaping the culture, not just adopting new methods, but rather becoming more adaptive for things to come. Stating this means we have to stay open for any change or surprise and care less about compliances. Therefore, a cultural shift needs a governance shift (people and processes) towards a dimension of distributed knowledge, distributed power and distributed decisions.

The Underestimated Way to Remain Human: Non-violent Communication

hipiThe non-violent communication is a language and a way of communication that strengthen our ability to remain human, no matter of a challenging situation that might appear. The pioneer of the NVC, Marshall B. Rosenberg, has written the bestselling book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”. These methods are used for years around the world to resolve the most difficult conflicts such are the war conflicts and hostage situations. I hope we don’t have these dimensions in our agile teams…

The non-violent communication (NVC) might improve our lives. We are used to the verbal ‘aggression’ usually imposed by the position, an authority or power of the higher ranking, but it is not uncommon among the peers too. One example comes from the daily standup meeting in one of our teams:  A younger person was struggling with the unit tests execution for 2 days in a row. She was trying to dig out by herself was it a problem in the code or the tests themselves. She started to elaborate the details to the colleagues in the team. Being not the time and place at the daily meeting to go into details, the team facilitator interrupted the discussion by saying: “Can someone more competent finally do this?
Is this respect and does it help to improve the situation or motivate the team to do the work!?

When participating in one of the seminars, I learned this::

NVC is a lLanguage of Compassion Rather Than Domination

NVC is focusing attention

NVC is managing existing conflicts and preventing new

NVC is not about being nice; it’s about being real.


The NVC is “formalized” via 4 routines:

Observation -
observing the situation, what others are doing or saying. Articulating the situation without adding judgments: “When I (see, hear, remember, imagine, etc.)

we state how we feel when we observe this action: “I feel…

we express our needs related to the feelings we have identified: “…because I need…

we clearly say what we want from the other person to enrich our lives or make life more wonderful for us without demanding by saying e.g. “Would you be willing to…

It takes practice, as for everything, but in few cases it really worked well for me, even though I needed to prepare the wording scenario well in advance…



Judging and classifying people promotes ‘violence’ and I am sure we don’t need that.