Belonging to the Tribe

I wasn’t the most athletic kid growing up. Haha. Who am I fooling? I’m still not athletic. I tripped trying to run to first base because my legs were moving faster than my body. I fell playing kickball because my foot landed on top of the ball instead of kicking the ball. I sometimes run into walls. So you can probably imagine that I wasn’t the first one picked to be on a team. And even if I was (eventually) picked, I certainly wasn’t in the starting lineup!

So it really resonated with me when Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, explained to my colleagues and I* why the employees at WD-40 consider themselves a tribe and not a team.

A team, Ridge explained, comes together for a purpose… usually a competitive one. There are top players, and benchwarmers, and people who didn’t get picked to be on the team at all. They practice together to meet their goal of beating the opponent. But when the game is over, they separate. They lead their own lives, independent of each other.

A tribe, however, is different. Tribes depend on the people within their unit for survival. Every member of the tribe has an important role based on their skills and talents. There are no benchwarmers in a tribe.

Tribes have other elements as well. They have values; they’re future-focused; they are warriors, when needed; and they place importance on celebrations. All of which are elements that contribute to a positive workplace culture.

And because the tribe is dependent on each other, the responsibility of the tribal leader is to be a learner and a teacher. Not only is the leader learning and gaining wisdom that will nurture and sustain the tribe, but s/he also must pass the wisdom down so that the tribe’s success continues without the leader.

The tribe is a much more intentional, and meaningful, connection than a team. People belong to a tribe. They have purpose within the tribe. They are protected by the tribe.

Seth Godin, in his book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us, writes: “Caring is the key emotion at the center of the tribe. Tribe members care what happens, to their goals and to one another.”

Isn’t that, ultimately, at the core of what we want our classrooms and schools to be for our students?


*Before meeting Garry, I would have used the phrase “team” to describe my colleagues. But they are my tribe. As Seth Godin describes it: “Tribes are about faith—about belief in an idea and in a community. And they are grounded in respect and admiration…” Grateful to have found my tribe!

Learn more about the WD-40 tribe on their website.

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