How to understand what kind of group culture you work in


What is the culture like where you work?
How do you know how to articulate the kind of culture you work in?
In the book ,”Tribal Leadership,” by Dave Logan, Halee Fischer-Wright, and John King, they broke it out into 5 categories. I read this book over 10 years ago, and it has had a profound impact on my approach.
All people who gather in groups can be defined as tribes. The group of people you work with everyday has a culture that should fit into one of these 5 stages. It has been a great asset to me to be able to identify and have awareness of the type of group I’m in when I go to a client. Most importantly, its helped me try to be conscious about the kind of culture I help encourage at Skellig.
Stage 1
The group motto here is “life sucks”. This is usually the kind of culture you find in gangs and prison. Hopefully you aren’t working in a group that belongs to this stage!
Stage 2
The group motto here is “My life sucks”. This is usually a place where people are just trying to get by. Nobody cares about the work or has any passion for what they do. People blame coworkers and management for their woes. Although the DMV (Where Patty and Selma work in the Simpsons) I go to is great, a lot of people site this type of environment as stage 2.
Stage 3
This group motto is “I’m great.. and you’re not”. Most businesses and teams are here. People here feel good about themselves and their individual contribution and they complain about the people around them not being as smart as they are. People feel deserving of special individual financial recognition.
Stage 4
This group motto is “we are great”. In these groups people work together toward a common goal, they share common values and work against a common competitor. Instead of individual recognition, its all about group recognition.
Stage 5
This group motto is “life is great”. In these groups there is no focus on competitors, only a just cause. These groups are focused on impact. One example given in the book of a Stage 5 Culture was Genentech in the early days (70’s and 80’s). Nowadays, most pharma/biotech companies have lined their halls with pictures of people whose lives they’ve positively impacted. Genentech was the first. Genentech employees would list cancer as their competitor not another pharma company.
The take away is not many groups or companies make it to Stage 4. This is something you can impact if you have the power to influence or build a team. Choose people who share values, preferably your values and energize them around a common cause.
Being aware of the culture of your group is very important for your own career development.

Published by


Paul O'Sullivan

Paul is an automation engineer and founder/owner at Skellig, an engineering company providing automation, process, instrumentation, and project solutions in the biotech & pharmaceutical Industries. Paul, with his team, is building Skellig to be more real, more personal, and more human.