Tribalism in IT… Why It is in our nature to not all get along!

When I was a boy, I started following the Essendon Australian Rules Football club…I was drawn to their colours and I was also drawn to the fact they had just completed back to back premierships. Since then, I have been engaged in running battles with my father, family and friends…all who support different AFL sides. I chose my tribe early on in life and that has resulted in battle lines being drawn every since.

People, by nature are tribal creatures…most of us strive to belong to groups that carry similar values, shared beliefs and also, the most primal desires of all…the feeling of belonging, security and safety. People form tribes… they always have… they always will. We all fight for our tribes and in what we believe in. Whether it be Coke or Pepsi, Burger King or McDonalds, Nike or Reebok, Apple or Samsung… the list goes on!

Work Tribes:

When it comes to work, tribalism becomes even more apparent. Even within work places we see tribes form between departments and even within the same groups… each tribe with their own agenda…their own political motives… but ultimately each person in their respective tribes wants to see that tribe succeed.

I watched a TED Talk a long while back around Tribal Leadership… it’s worth a watch for those that want to understand how people tick when it comes to tribalism. David Logan suggests that there are 5 Stages of Tribal culture… most of the population fall into stages two, three or four with the majority falling in Stage 3:

Stage Three: Tribal members are selfish at this stage. They are in it for themselves, and they are extremely averse to collaboration. Their attitude is “I’m great . . . and you’re not.”

Each stage has it’s own description but ultimately when it comes to Work Tribes, we are very good at taking that attitude of, I am great and you are not. Your software sucks…mine is better. We outperform your storage array.. etc etc

Vendor Wars, FUD, Trolling and the Notion of Can’t we all Get Along?

Anyone who operates in and around IT vendors knows of instances where things have been posted on social media that escalates to popcorn worthy viewing. Trolling is also something that happens quiet often and I will be the first to admit that I have been involved at times and also witnessed petulant behaviour that has a lot to do with protecting ones tribe.

We all walk a fine line when it comes to supporting our tribes… and for those who are passionate by nature, the line can sometimes be easily crossed. I have observed those who claim to be non tribal, less passionate and see themselves as neutral observers when it comes to trolling, arguments or FUD throwing. These are the people that will ironically join the argument while standing on their soapboxes and shout… “Why can’t we all get along!” … themselves showing Stage 1 or 2 tribal characteristics.

When it comes to defending our tribes… the tribes that put food on the table for our families… the tribes that help us achieve a sense of belonging and accomplishment in life … the tribes who we currently root for 100%… it should not be of surprise to anyone that competitive behaviour exists. There are always lines that are crossed, but that is one hundred percent due to the belief in our own tribes and the desire for them to survive and prosper.

I’m not excusing any behavior. I’m not condoning some of the stuff I have seen, or been a part of… but what I am trying to say is that as long as people exist, we will form tribes… it’s a very reptilian instinct that makes us want to defend our patches.

I know this is controversial to some… and that some people don’t like or condone the behaviour that we see sometimes, but the reality of the world in which we live in… especially in the IT vendor space… is that tribes will be at war… and people will do what they need to do to win. It’s not always desirable and sometimes the level of FUD is amazingly mind blowing. However, the one thing to remember… and the irony that is obviously apparent in the world of IT is that people change tribes often… people who where once your enemy are now your tribe members… this is something that needs consideration as we are always ultimately accountable for our actions.

At the end of the day, it is almost impossible for everyone to play nice…We are… and always have been tribal!

For those interested… the TED Talk by David Logan is embedded below: