Organizing and Leading Tribal Humans


Working in groups is built into our basic brain function. It is part of our survival mechanism to form tribal groups to provide belonging, safety, and support. Within our modern lives we belong to many tribes that have different and sometimes conflicting goals. This paper explores the basics of how tribes operate, the challenges involved in maintaining a cohesive tribe or working group, and the leadership characteristics required. By understanding these dynamics, organizations can better cultivate effective leadership and foster cohesive, successful tribal structures in today's complex, interconnected world.


This paper provides an overview of how humans organize themselves to work together. It looks at the history of organizational and leadership types that still impact modern-day organizations despite the evolution of technology. There is also guidance on the characteristics of leaders that are beneficial or destructive. Leaders will have the opportunity to reflect on their own leadership style and capabilities to enhance self-awareness and improvement.


Humans seek relationships within safe and trusted groups or tribes where they are loved, respected, cared for, and allowed to succeed. How humans have structured social and work groups over time has changed but many of the remnants of those structures remain today. Within our modern society people belong to many different tribes that overlap and impact each other. This resource explores the functions and challenges of tribes and tribal leadership translated into our world. Key ideas Tribal Basics for Success
  • Goals - Members need to align and work together
  • Belonging - The tribe defines who is in and who is out
  • Roles - Members have specific roles based on talents
  • Trust - Trust is essential for the group to remain strong
  • Forgiveness - Trust cannot exist without forgiveness
  • Collaboration - People must work together to succeed
Evolution of How Humans Organize
  • Chiefdoms
  • Hierarchy - craftsmen, agriculture
  • Industrialization - efficiency, consumerism
  • Collaboration & Empowerment
Tribal Challenges (discover what threatens the cohesiveness of a workgroup)
  • Group Size
  • Multiple Tribal Influences
  • Tribal Membership
  • Geographic Disbursement
  • Job Mobility
  • Technical Expertise
  • Generational Changes
  • Individual Achievement
  • Global Change
  • Organizational Change
  • Innovation
Leaders Are… (analyze the characteristics of good leaders)
  • Emotionally Mature
  • Grounded in Organizational Values and Beliefs
  • Authentic
  • Courageous
  • Visionaries
  • Connection Builders
  • Diversity Seekers
  • Servant Leaders 
  • Planners and Organizers
  • Intelligent
  • Change Agents
Consequences of Bad Leaders (see the cost of bad leadership)
  • Loss of Confidence in Leadership
  • Selfish Leaders 
  • Micromanagement 
  • Leaders as Individual Performers 
  • Lack of Diversity and Innovation 
  • Distrust
  • Favoritism 
  • Impact to the Bottom Line 
  • Divisiveness 
  • Damaged People
  • Environmental Degradation
  • Cultural Decline
Evolving Leaders for the Future 
  • Assess what leadership characteristics will be most important for the next stage of our evolution

Sample Activity

The paper can be used individually for self-learning and application in everyday life and in work environments.  The paper can be read by a group with a follow-up group discussion on key points and personal experiences and takeaways:
  • List 3 tribes in your life and how you adapt your behavior when engaging in them. 
  • How does the leadership in an organization that you are familiar with rate on the characteristics listed in this paper?
  • How might you apply the learning to your future actions as a leader?


This asset is derived from the work of Anne Hunnex.

Target Audience:

  • Leaders
  • Educators
  • Facilitators 
  • Students

Got feedback or input? Please share!