Alaska Indigenous Artifacts

Tribal Animals

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Nature Rules:

There is a lot of discussion about organizational culture these days. What is it? How does it contribute to or inhibit effectiveness? How do we “manage” it?

I define culture as simply “the way things get done around here.” And that means how decisions are made. That includes whether employees feel that the environment is safe for them to try new things, learn, and express their thoughts or feelings.

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Peter F. Drucker

Humans are tribal animals. Belonging to a tribe (or multiple tribes in our modern world) is important. And that means that tribal members must believe that they share the values and vision of the organization.


Year after year, Gallop surveys the U.S. workplace and finds that about 30% or fewer of our employees are engaged in the business. Worse yet, some are actively

Alaska Indigenous Artifacts

working against the company objectives. I maintain that is because they do not understand, share or agree with the stated values and vision of the organization. They do not feel they are part of the tribe. So, they fly low and put their time in, but they are not really engaged.

The foundation of an engaged workforce is mutual trust. A highly functional team or tribe cannot exist without trust.

“In human relations, trust is defined as believing that you have my (and the team’s, and the company’s)
best interest at heart, not just your own.”

Dave Kinnear

Hiring Criteria

An ideal team player (to use Lencioni’s terminology) is someone who fits into the tribe. In my book, that means shared values, vision, and mutual trust. It logically follows, therefore, that when we are adding team members that we put the emphasis on those shared values, vision, and trust rather than technical competencies.

Yet, almost all the hiring practices I’ve been exposed to are more about resume, technical competency, and talent as opposed to the more difficult “fit” interviewing practices. Then we wonder why we have employee turnover and disengaged team members.

Bottom Line

My observation is that Mr. Drucker is right in that no matter what strategy we put in place, the culture will win in the end. And since culture is how things get done, in turn, the tribal norms are what determine the culture. It follows that we must hire for fit in the tribe rather than simply technical competencies.

It should also be obvious that if we have not built a tribe that is in alignment with the values, vision, and mission of the organization, we have to embark on cultural change. Those of you familiar with cultural change realize that the larger the organization, the more difficult the change initiative will be. I believe that the “curve” is exponential for cultural change versus organizational size. Regardless, it is a daunting task to effect cultural change.