Just Who IS Your Tribe?

There are some colleagues you love to spend time with while others who drive you crazy. The author describes the differences and the impact they can have on your work environment.

There are some colleagues you just love to spend time with – and others that can take you from “okay” to “I’m-going-to-stab-MYSELF-with-a-pencil-to-make-you-go-away” after five minutes!

What’s the difference?

The first person is your tribe – the type of person you enjoy spending time with, who feeds who you are as a person, who has values complementary to your own, and inspires you to bring out the best in yourself.

The second type of person is NOT your tribe. There is probably nothing wrong with him as a person – but he rubs you the wrong way anyway. These are not the kinds of people you want to spend time around because you don’t connect on a lot of different levels from morals to work ethic to personality. It’s bad chemistry.

Let’s face it you, spend a good 40 hours a week of your life (sometimes more!) with a certain group of people – your work colleagues. They should be the kinds of people you want to be with. After all, a lot of us spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our spouse!

Work becomes a hostile environment when most of your colleagues aren’t part of your tribe. It’s draining to be spending so much of your time with people who just aren’t in alignment with who you want to be as a person.

Let me give you an example: I once worked in an office where we had a mid-level manager who was afraid the supervisors who worked for him would neglect to tell him important details about projects they were working on. He was so afraid that something would happen that he didn’t know about, that he would interrogate them endlessly on the most minute details of every project.

Now remember, the one thing he did NOT want was to be caught off guard, so what do you suppose his supervisors did? Yeah, they would go behind his back, make their plans, move forward and deliberately not tell him because they didn’t want to be seconded guessed and nitpicked and interrogated, which was the way they experienced him.

This is a classic example of a tribe mismatch!

The mid-level manager was accustomed to working in a tribe where people told him every detail. His supervisors came from a tribe that valued independence. Neither tribe is “wrong,” they are just mismatched.

And the mismatch led to an environment of distrust, disrespect, and leaving each other in the lurch. THIS group of people was NOT a tribe!

But when you DO find your tribe… It’s a wonderful feeling to head into work every day knowing you’ll be spending the next 8 (or more!) hours with people you KNOW you can count on to do what they say they will do, appreciate your work, share the same values, and encourage you to be the BEST of YOU.

Now I’m not saying that you want to be in a job where everybody is exactly like you. That would be boring! (And without complementary skillsets, not much would get done!)

When you’re in a job where your coworkers are people you genuinely enjoy being around, work works!

When your job is with members of your tribe, not only do you get to make the difference you wanted to make when you came to your service in the first place, you also get to look forward to seeing your colleagues each day. It really is like “having a best friend at work.” (Anyone who has ever taken a Gallup Employee Engagement survey…you might recognize those words.)

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.