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Parsing Corporate Cultures

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A group of management consultants undertook a 10-year study of more than 24,000 people in two dozen organizations and came up with a taxonomy of corporate cultures.  Here is a brief summary of what they discovered.

In their model, there are 5 types of “tribes” and these tribes (20-150 people) make up components of corporate cultures.  The different tribes are really stages in the evolution of an overall corporate culture.  The pitch is that the later stages of evolution make a company (ROI pitch) more competitive, productive, efficient and profitable than earlier stage cultural tribal states.  And, with enough management consulting fees, your company can get to later stages, perhaps Stage Five – or not.

In any case, its a good story.

Stage One – Theme – “Life Sucks”;
Mood – despairing Hostility (2% of workplace cultures)

These are groups of individuals that operate without social rules or values except loyalty to the group.  This is a group the consists of street gangs, motorcycle gangs,  and people who come to work with shot guns.  People at this stage are despairingly hostile and they band together to get ahead in a violent and unfair world. Organizations generally do not hire Stage One individuals.  Most anthropologists say that human society started at Stage One, clans scratching out an existence while fighting with each other.  Giving up is the only enlightened thing to do.  Generally, there are no professionals in this category.

Stage Two – Theme – “My Life Sucks”;
Mood – Apathetic Victim  ( 25% of workplace cultures)

Folks in this group generally use the phrase “my life sucks” and are passively antagonistic.  They never really get interested enough to spark any passion.  Their laughter is quietly sarcastic and resigned.  This is a cluster of apathetic victims.

There is little or no innovation and almost no sense of urgency.  people almost never hold each other accountable for anything.  Most companies have pockets of Stage Two divisions and departments that don’t have any impact on strategy or direction.

(Not) surprising(ly), the researches discovered that this stage was prevalent within an ( un-named) agency of the US Government.  When researchers showed up managers and employees stood in doorways looking out into the hallways holding coffee cups saying “I’d rather be fishing” and “I live for the weekends”

No amount of team building, motivational speeches, discussion of core values, or new strategic plans would make any difference with this group.

Stage Three – Theme – “I’m great and  you are not”;
Mood – Lone Warrior ( 49% of workplace cultures)

For this group knowledge is power and people hoard it.  People in this group have to win and winning is everything and its personal.  This is a collection of “lone warriors”.  In this group people are mostly interested in themselves.  “I am great”.  “A sage on stage”

These are the people with big egos.  For this group “success” is measured on an individual basis.  Values are “my values” not group values.  People talk mostly about themselves and focus on creating appearances to show that they are better than others.  People at this stage may appear to focus on team goals but their action shows that their concern are only personal.  People tend to form two-person relationships.  They rarely bring people together.

People stay (get stuck) at Stage Three due to the addictive  “hit”/enjoyment they get from besting others.

No amount of team building will turn this collection of self-described star players into a team.  Give it a new strategy and they will say they don’t need it.

Stage Four – Theme – “We’re great and they are not”
Mood – Tribal Pride ( 22% of workplace cultures)

The gulf between Stage Three “I am great” and Stage Four “We are great” is huge.  The theme of communication is “we” not “I”.  For people at this stage to take the team away a person suffers a sense of loss.  In the team people feel that they are fully themselves.  People in this tribe hold each other accountable and to shared values.  People at this stage will not tolerate bad behavior seen in the TV show The Office or the “I am great”  personal agendas of Stage Three.

The need for an adversary is built into the DNA of this tribal stage.  The bigger the foe the more powerful this tribe becomes.  The mood is one of tribal pride.  This tribe seeks its own competitor.  Football teams are examples of this type of tribe.

Companies that are run by people who all have the same background, temperament, personality, IQ, learning style are easy targets for competitors.  Disequilibrium is necessary to drive innovation and creativity.  This stage is the launching pad for Stage Five.

Stage Five  – Theme –  “Life is Great” (and we’re not doing drugs)
Mood – Innocent Wonderment ( 2% of workplace cultures)

Stage Five groups are wearing T-shirts that say “Life is Great” – and they haven’t been doing illicit substances.  Their  language revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history – not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact.  This groups mood is “innocent wonderment” with people in competition with what is possible, not with another competitor.  The value system is based on “global” “resonant” values.  Examples of people are Stage Five produced the first Macintosh.  This stage is pure leadership, vision, and inspiration.

Each of the five stages has its own set of attributes for these components:

1. Values – What we stand for
2. Noble cause – What we live for
3. Outcomes -What we want
4. Assets – What we have
5. Behavior – What we will do

They put this all in a book – Tribal Leadership.

The book summarizes the five stages above, provides an in-depth description of each, then goes on to provide “leverage points” as to how one can facilitate the movement of groups of people along the stages along with success criteria.  If you are a HR person responsible for career development and/or talent management, an executive, manager, or just anyone who wants to better understand corporate culture, this study is worth taking a look-see.

You can read more about the research here –

Free Audio book

Zappos found itself to be a  Stage 4 Company.  Zappos is providing the Tribal Leadership Audio book for FREE.
You can get the MP3 of the book by registering at here –
Then download the complete audio book for free (285 MB) !!

We had the wonderful experience spending a day at, the world’s biggest online shoe store. They have truly perfected the art of culture. Not only are their core values well-known throughout the company, they actually have the means to track the values across departments.

In our estimation, Zappos is one of the few companies that have successfully entered Stage Four and are looking to stabilize it before being pulled into Stage Five.  This may seem easy at first glance for a company with happy employees and revenues that just broke $1 billion per year.  However, it’s inevitable that a company of 1600 people with departments whose goals are not always clearly in sync will run into growing pains.

If Zappos can create a culture of coaching and triads, around a noble cause that unites all departments, they will upgrade to a rock steady Stage Four, and as we demonstrated in the book, prime themselves for the world to call them into Stage Five.

Take a tour of –

Why Zappos pays people to quit – from Harvard Business ( but they don’t have the shoes I am looking for “Caterpillar Walking Machines”  – Check them out any way )


Written by frrl

March 6, 2010 at 2:59 am

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