How to Build a Cohesive Team: Stage 4 Culture

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Tribal Leadership" by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s Stage 4 culture? What do cohesive teams have in common? How do you create one?

According to Tribal Leadership, any organization succeeds or fails on the culture of its tribes—groups of individuals that share ways of thinking, interacting, and working—and we can improve our organizations by upgrading the cultures of those tribes, progressing from one stage to the next. Stage 4 culture involves a cohesive team. Tribal Leadership outlines three characteristics of cohesive teams and three strategies for building one.

Keep reading to learn these characteristics and strategies for how to build a cohesive team in your organization.

Tribal Leadership Stage 4: Cohesive Teamwork

According to the book, just under a quarter of the modern workforce operates at Stage 4. At Stage 4, the tribe comes together around shared values and pursues a well-crafted mission. They explicitly recognize themselves as a tribe, and they unify under a strong leader to pursue ambitious goals. Authors Dave Logan, Halee Fischer-Wright, and John King share three markers to help you determine when an organization is at this stage, and they offer three strategies for how to build a cohesive team.

Stage 4 individuals have high energy, enthusiasm for their work, and positive relationships with their peers. They often express gratitude or appreciation for their jobs, and they respect and value effective tribal leaders. 

On the collective level, Stage 4 cultures or tribes have much the same characteristics. The tribe cooperates effectively, and tribe members often resolve day-to-day conflicts by remembering their shared values. Leadership and staff respect each other, so they work together effectively and enjoy doing so. Altogether, Stage 4 tribes get more done with less effort, and they do it with a contented enthusiasm you won’t find at earlier stages.  

The authors explain that Stage 4 tribes often have mature and creative cultures that attract the best talent, and their teamwork empowers them to innovate and achieve great things. Much like a sports team, a Stage 4 tribe needs a foe to compete against—usually an industry competitor. Competition spurs the tribe to innovate, stretch their abilities, and become better. 

Collaboration Isn’t a Panacea

After the challenging natures of Stages 1 through 3, the authors describe Stage 4 with an optimistic, idealized tone. However, even collaborative work cultures have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include those described above—greater employee satisfaction, a happy workplace, and a creative culture. However, the authors don’t provide any quantitative proof of the benefits of Stage 4; on the other hand, recent research shows that overfocus on collaboration lowers productivity in measurable ways. The study found that:

Employees spent around 80% of their time on administrative tasks, such as emails and meetings.

3% to 5% of collaborators provide upwards of 20% to 35% of the value.

The few employees who contribute the most become overinvolved and begin to cause bottlenecks, wherein work can’t proceed until they’ve contributed. At the same time, they stretch themselves too thin to work effectively.

To counteract these effects, the researchers suggest identifying two people—the overinvolved “helpers” and the “help requesters”—and encouraging behavioral change that redistributes the workload. For instance, you might encourage helpers to say no to projects that don’t play to their unique strengths, and you might show help requesters how to find what they need elsewhere, such as from other employees who aren’t as known for willingness to help.

Three Key Markers of Stage 4

Like the previous stages, Stage 4 has three characteristic markers: its stance toward values, its language, and its relationships. 

Marker #1: A strong and explicit commitment to shared values. Unlike the previous stages, a Stage 4 tribe develops shared values—the tribe members and leaders discuss and articulate their values together. With values made explicit, the members of a Stage 4 tribe recognize their shared identity, and they begin to see each other as kin and allies. 

According to the authors, an organization dominated by Stage 4 tribes finds creative ways to express and embody their values. For instance, it might replace cubicles with modern co-working spaces to encourage teamwork. Or it might reimagine how meetings work, allowing anyone from anywhere in the hierarchy to contribute equally to the conversation.

(Shortform note: In addition to their importance to businesses, psychologists recognize values as a key to finding personal well-being. Your “core values” are what you stand for, through thick and thin—such as reliability, passion, or rationality. There are several ways to find your core values, including by using a “values inventory” tool, reflecting on the best and worst experiences you’ve had, and observing your behaviors to find out what drives them.)

Marker #2: Tribe-centered language. In a Stage 4 culture, the prevailing mood is one of camaraderie and authenticity, and the language reflects this. Both tribe members and leaders often praise one another, expressing how great it feels to be part of such a strong, collaborative organization. According to the authors, they use “we’re great” language.

(Shortform note: The authors’ description of a Stage 4 tribe evokes the camaraderie of a sports team, wherein the team’s success explicitly depends on how good the team members feel about themselves and each other. In this same vein, some collaborative companies use sports-themed retrospectives to review their work and stay aligned, since sports offer a rich array of team-building exercises and wisdom to draw from.)

Marker #3: Strong, networked relationships. In a Stage 4 tribe, individuals form networked relationships—that is, they always interact with at least two other individuals. To the Stage 4 individual, the tribe comes first, so he’s always looking to build strong relationships or introduce people he thinks might work well together. Given this, multi-person networking dominates Stage 4 social occasions, and everyone works to strengthen and expand the tribe’s relationships.  

(Shortform note: The McKinsey Institute suggests that successful organizational change often comes from focusing on the informal networks within your company, rather than trying to restructure the various departments and teams of a typical organizational chart. Much like the authors of Tribal Leadership, they argue that these networks—which disregard the boundaries of departments and hierarchies—determine what gets done. Networked relationships help information flow more smoothly between those who need it, and they prevent bottlenecks wherein many subordinates rely on one higher-up who makes the key decisions.)

How to Build a Cohesive Team

To create a Stage 4 Tribe, the authors explain three strategies. Strategies #1 and #2 apply to building a Stage 4 tribe from scratch, while Strategy #3 works to create a Stage 4 tribe within an existing organization. 

Each strategy hinges on creating a core tribal team that gives rise to the tribe’s culture. Create this core team from individuals who have “owned” Stage 3, as we explained in Part 3. Having played and gotten their fill of Stage 3, these individuals are ready for the collaboration and teamwork of Stage 4. 

Strategy #1: Bring together like-minded friends. Get together with a group of like-minded friends—people with whom you share values and a general outlook—and figure out how you could make money. By starting with the friendship and camaraderie of a solid group of friends, you place a strong culture at the foundation of this new organization. And as the authors explain, culture is more important than anything else—so long as the culture is strong, business success will come as a byproduct of that group’s love of working with one another. 

(Shortform note: Starting a business with a group of friends has advantages and disadvantages. As the authors explain, it provides a solid basis for strong, amiable relationships. On the flip side, you and your friends might share the same blind spots, especially if you come from similar backgrounds. To counteract this, aim to find recruits who demonstrate different perspectives and skills, and be sure to clearly define the strengths and roles of each co-founding friend you start with.)

Strategy #2: Grow an alliance within your company. Within your organization, look for others who sense the need for greater teamwork and collaboration. Help these others through the Stage 4 insights, as we described in Part 3, and build your relationships by speaking to shared values. The authors suggest creating a formal declaration of values and asking aspiring Stage 4 tribe members to commit to those values. This filters out people who lack genuine interest and ensures that aspiring Stage 4 individuals form the core tribal team. With this tribe formed, do your best work and demonstrate the superiority of Stage 4 tribal teamwork.

(Shortform note: For this second strategy, the authors note that a Stage 3 boss can hinder or dismantle Stage 4 efforts. If this occurs, focus on keeping your emotions in check and dealing with the boss in a clearheaded way. Then, identify what kind of bad boss you have and use the right strategy to neutralize the threat. For instance, you might find that your boss is a “tyrant,” in which case giving him some credit for your Stage 4 ideas could assuage his ego and get him on board.)

Strategy #3: Create a tribe through networking. By aggressively networking, you can find like-minded people who see the value of Stage 4 teamwork. Look for others who’ve seen the limitations of individual ambition, and bring these people together to build new relationships. 

With this strategy, a tribe comes together around a leader who has exceptional people skills. Treat tribe members with respect and warmth, and listen more than you command. This kind of Stage 4 tribe is often flatter than a typical corporate hierarchy, and its business runs on the power of social networks. 

(Shortform note: As a real-world example of this third strategy, consider styled shoots, a type of simulated wedding event that gives hairstylists, makeup artists, florists, models, planners, and photographers a chance to collaborate and network. Through these events, the various vendors and artisans build relationships and establish lightweight business networks—for instance, a planner might meet a handful of makeup and hair stylists on whom she can rely for real weddings, too. In this sense, they’re an informal tribe that supports one another in their business efforts.)

How to Build a Cohesive Team: Stage 4 Culture

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Here's what you'll find in our full Tribal Leadership summary:

  • Why culture makes all the difference when it comes to business
  • The five stages of elevating a group's culture
  • How to know which stage your work culture is in

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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