Warring Tribes Management

Football teams usually show us good examples of teamwork: players with different skills work together to move the ball down the field (or stop the other team from moving the ball) and eventually win the game. What would happen if the coach allowed (or even encouraged) the players to work against each other? Believe it or not, some managers do this, and it reflects what we call a warring tribes management style. This involves keeping different groups fighting with each other rather than uniting in a common purpose. Why would any manager do this? To maintain control, and to use the groups for his own ends.

I once saw warring tribes management up close and personal. A program leader met monthly with the managers who led the half dozen or so organizations working in his team. Rather than encourage cooperation or collaboration, he frequently played them off against each other. His tools included playing favorites; moving resources from one group to another, often without explanation; threats, insults, and shaming; and even an occasional whispered rumor of “do you know what they said about your group?” His management was childish and divisive, but effective at maintaining control. Effective, but damaging to teamwork and productivity, and ultimately career-limiting as people caught on to his games.

Increasingly over the past decade or more, much of our country has fallen prey to a warring tribes mentality, often encouraged by large and small political groups. Our “tribes” divide by race, ethnicity, location, education, wealth, political power, purpose in life, and other factors. Sometimes the divisions are real and sometimes they are only perceived, but these corrosive divisions still play people off against each other, and weaken our society. When will we catch on to the games?

Christians have an alternative to dividing into tribes. Jesus called us into a Christ-centered unity when He prayed in John 17:20-21, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” By God’s Spirit, may we embrace this unity, centered in Jesus!

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