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Your Business. Your Tribe.

When you join a workgroup, you are committing your welfare and your future to that group; the stakes are high enough that the potential for deeper meaning is there. There is the potential to grow a tribe.

Think about it. What else would a tribe be? You spend the better part of the day with these people. Their performance (at least partially) determines your compensation, your status, and your satisfaction with your job. Nowhere is that more true than in a small business. When the pie is a small one, it’s hard for the best performer to get rewarded if the whole team isn’t performing. On the flip side, it’s that much easier for one bad apple to spoil the bunch. So if you own and lead a business, building that community of people (inside and outside your business) who are committed to your business growth is an important key to your business success. When you do that, you are investing in your very own tribe.

To build a tribe in the truest sense, you need to focus on building a culture that’s safe. When people feel like they can take risks, make mistakes, and try new things (without fear of blame or punishment), they are more likely to bring their whole selves to work. And when they are bringing their whole selves to work, the gains are felt in practically every area. Safety is the foundation of good company culture. If you already have a tribe, how do you create safety for the folks in your tribe? If you don’t have a tribe, without safety, you likely never will. In each case you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

Here’s 3 ways leaders can build strong team engagement and community.

1. Create and communicate a compelling purpose.

We are doing something important, something we all care about, something bigger than us. Being committed to a goal that’s bigger than us helps to overcome selfishness and defuse pettiness. Big goals demand big efforts and total commitment. It creates a situation where we don’t tolerate poor performance from others; and it gives us permission to call it out. When we see that the whole group is committed to it, we are more willing to sacrifice to make it happen. You must know the compelling reasons for doing what you do; and you must be able to communicate that to others.

2. Track progress; and celebrate when we reach goals.

Progress feels good. Reaching a goal or completing a task gives us a dopamine hit. We feel effective. It increases our status. We own a share in a “winner”.

Celebrate those moments, make them public. Even if it’s just one person reaching a milestone, or one department reaching a goal, tell everyone about it. They’ll all feel more committed to their goals. Ultimately, success creates pride. When we are proud we become more attached (and more loyal, and more engaged).

3. Demonstrate that you (the leader) care about people more than productivity.

Getting to know what’s important to each other beyond work, and supporting that (in addition to their work goals) makes a huge difference. It says that you aren’t just “using” them, but that you care about their success and happiness as a person. That kind of caring draws people to you and the cause you are championing.

Doing these things right is a big job; it means that you need to bring your best as a leader. To constantly call people to a big challenge or goal, to push folks so that there is progress to celebrate, to care about people who ultimately are (most likely) going to leave you means that you need to be “full”. You need to know that as much as you depend on your team for the success of your company, there are other places (outside of work) where you are getting your needs met.

I find that leaders who come to work needing something (friendship, success, security) have a hard time creating this kind of positive community. They undermine their own success by seeking to get their needs met instead of creating and communicating purpose, celebrating success, and demonstrating care for others.

Here’s three ways leaders destroy team engagement and community.

1. Make sure that you look good.

Your team knows when you are polishing your apple; that is, when you attribute success to yourself and blame to others. This behavior doesn’t make them want to work hard or engage. Selfishness in a leader is a tribe-killer. I’ve seen lots of leaders who attribute all the smarts and hard work to their teams, while the world around them attributes success to the leader anyway. There is a bias in your favor already; so give the team the kudos.

2. Blame others, or look for who’s “fault” it was.

Blame produces fear and shame. Fear makes people stupid and inhibits creativity. Shame interferes with connections between people. When I feel any of these (fear, shame, or blame) I want to hide; I don’t want to bring my best (riskiest) ideas out in the open. This is kind of atmosphere will poison any efforts to build your tribe. It’s better the take the blame yourself than to search for a scapegoat.

3. Fail to notice; fail to demonstrate you care.

When someone does something outstanding and no one notices, something dies. Not just for the person who gets “missed”, but for the whole tribe. They miss out on being proud of that person, and of the status boost of being around such a success. It doesn’t matter if what needs celebrating is a work thing, or a family thing, or a personal achievement. Celebrate it!

Building your tribe is job #1 for every leader. A tribe isn’t born out of your personal charisma, your cool clothes, your smarts, or your wit. A tribe is born when you have an important challenge, you present it to smart, capable people, and you give them everything they need to win. Then you stand on the sidelines and cheer as they do just that.

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