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InfoQ Homepage Articles The Culture Game - Extract #5

The Culture Game - Extract #5

The third part of Tribal Learning is tribal leadership. Tribal Leadership is a collaboration and leadership framework described by the authors Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright in the book of the same name. In that book, the authors describe how three-person groups known as triads can transform teams and organizations.

A single manager can deploy the Tribal Learning Practices in this book with good results. As a manager, you can choose to deploy some of these practices inside your group. The Tribal Learning Practices create safe space and encourage elevated levels of group-level learning. As elevated levels of learning occur within your group, they may influence other groups that attend your meetings. This is the first level in implementing the practices.

The next level of implementation is encouraging other groups to try the Tribal Learning Practices. The best way to do this is to identify other managers who are willing to try it. The key is to identify and align with other managers who share values with you. Starting small is the right idea here: to get started, identify and align with just two other managers around Tribal Learning. This three-person structure is known as a triad1. It consists of three people with aligned values, where each person is responsible for the quality of the relationship between the other two.

Since all managers have direct reports and all managers convene meetings, the result is that three managers influence a group of between 20 and 150 people. Over time, the people using the Tribal Learning Practices see the results. Many of these people begin to value openness, respect, and continuous improvement. They begin to value (or do so stronger) acts of focus, commitment, and courage in individuals and in the wider organization. They begin to align their values. The people who hold these values and feel this alignment are in fact becoming a tribe.

The entire purpose of implementing the Tribal Learning Practices is to build a learning tribe. A learning tribe can easily respond to change and adapt. A learning tribe thinks, notices changes, and quickly adjusts. A learning tribe can design, build, and deliver great products on time every time.

A Note on Open Space and Tribal Learning

One of the Tribal Learning Practices is {Open the Space}. This is an important practice to generate an increase in organizational learning along several important dimensions. The Open Space meeting is a special type of facilitated meeting. The Open Space meeting begins with a large circle of chairs arranged for opening the meeting and ends when the facilitator closes the meeting. In between, participants convene small group sessions around the stated meeting theme.

The Open Space meeting format is very tribal and engaging. The design of this type of meeting is specifically to open and maintain safe space. The closing circle presents the opportunity for participants to describe the Open Space experience. Participants in the closing circle often report feelings of high learning, high play, and high engagement with others.

Use Open Space to create safe space, enable smooth organizational transitions, mix perspectives, and re-mix the learning. I advise you to create a recurring date each year that includes an Open Space meeting ritual. This recurring cultural event can generate a re-telling of the current story of your organization and re-hydrate the cultural values of openness and honest communication in your tribe. Use Open Space to mix and re-mix the Tribal Learning, to punctuate organizational transitions, and generate learning.

Beliefs, Behavior and Results

All change in organizations is belief change. A good example of change takes place with the introduction of Agile practices inside software teams. Agile teams start working as soon as they have enough actionable guidance to begin. This is the opposite of the waterfall approach, which encourages extensive up-front planning and a sequential ABC approach. Early in a project, the Agile method is empirical while the waterfall focuses on study, planning, and prediction. Each approach requires a set of underlying beliefs. The waterfall method assumes that prediction of all variables is possible while the Agile approach does not.

Assumptions, Beliefs and Mental Models

We know the world through our mental models. We construct them and then we use them to navigate the world. Mental models are a collection of assumptions about how something works, like a toaster, an automobile, a team, or an organization. For example, you have a mental model of how this book is organized and what is in it. When you think about this book, you refer to your collective set of assumptions about it, including the topic, the length, and the organization of the material. You might hold some assumptions about me, the author. Collectively then, this set of assumptions constitutes your mental model of this book. The assumptions are actually beliefs.

About the Author

Dan Mezick advises leaders, teams and organizations. An expert on culture design and business agility, Dan speaks frequently at industry conferences on culture change, organizational learning, and teamwork. He is an organizer of the agile CULTURE Conference, the signal event coming to Philadelphia & Boston in September of 2012. Sponsored by INFOQ, this event is keenly focused on the emerging art & science of culture design for teams and organizations. You can learn more here.

Dan's organization New Technology Solutions provides training programs, consulting & coaching to businesses of all sizes that are seeking more business agility. You can reach Dan at , by phone at 203 915 7248, via Twitter @DanMezick, or via his blog.

1 See footnote 7

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