Workplace Tribe Gone Wrong


The place I work for right now is all about team building. At least that’s what I was told during the hiring process. Even more so, after a whole-day round of the interviews I got another call from HR and one more “team participation” interview. Given that I am coming from independent consulting background I sensed nothing wrong, until I arrived.

Among first impressions that I’ve been put through was the all-employee meeting. Most of the meeting, though, concentrated on Sales Team. They occupied first forty or so rows of the expensive conference hall while pretty much everyone was happily dozing in the back. The whole talk was about the sales team and the finance team. They made good tribes, I guess.

Then, after much talk-around, the Q&A session ensued. One of the hottest topics was the cancellation of “casual Friday”. Turned out – many employees considered this a valuable perk (I used to wear pretty much anything as long as I got the job done the previous 10 years of my career, so I didn’t really took note until now). The CEO proclaimed that “yes, you don’t wear jeans on Friday anymore and let me tell you – you look great today”. Ask me – that sentence alone alienated exactly half of the company’s employees. Those, who don’t belong to sales and finance, made faces and whispered comments. Obviously, we all were sitting too far away for CEO to take note. As to the sales team – they have to wear their uniforms every day (even on Saturdays), so it’s not like the “casual Friday” policy was affecting them in any way before or after.

Being a newbie in the company I did a lot of asking after the meeting – talked to my peers, colleagues from other departments, even managers. What I was inquiring about can be essentially put as this: “Is the behavior this whole tribe exhibited during the meeting something regular or is it something new that no one really had a chance to get used to”. As I figured out – this was the first attempt to divide the large tribe into smaller ones and conquer only those who’s performance really mattered.

As I retreated into my smaller department tribe I realized that the reason why the divide and conquer paradigm worked pretty well for CEO is that because interdepartmental ties are quite similar to medieval relationships between city-kingdoms: “we’re not invading them because we can’t really keep that part of the land occupied”. Such truce-because-we-can’t-wage-war relationships are the reasons why any tribe can be divided and conquered into any number of smaller parts. And those are so much easier to take over…