f) social living



"...Humans are highly tribal beings. It is in our innate nature to develop groups, with social hierarchies......and conditions of behaviour which determine entry into the group and assure our continual place within it.....success is a tribal precondition..."
Lisa Portolan 2018

"...we are modern, yet ancient, advanced yet primitive. We are animals..."
Will Storr as quoted by
Lisa Portolan 2018

In recent times, social media and digital domains are defining our tribal groups more and more. Our mobile phones really are an extension of our self and can be described as a new locus of our identity.
"...we take photographs and videos, curate memories that represent our lives. we store them on our devices and blasts across social media, describing to others a perfect view of self. We define our mood, our thoughts and ideas through a veritable smorgasbord of filters..."
Lisa Portolan 2018

Still being part of a group is important
"...Whether social and digital media has exacerabated our natural tendency towards forming tribes - establishing cultural primers, narratives and icons which define a set of people......intrinsically this is part of our human nature, we long to be part of the group (for protection, safety, inclusion), and in a contradictory way, we also want to isolate ourselves from the group, we want to define ourselves as special and different. It's a push-pull which is as old as human existence..."
Lisa Portolan 2018

Even though we are tribal, we are still individualistic beings who like different things and behave in different ways.


This involves the dynamics of human groups and is called co-evolution (the idea that cultures and social institutions are adaptations that make compromises between environmental conditions and the enduring characteristics of human psychology). When looking across the great variety of human societies, there are common themes, dilemmas and conflicts. These universal tendencies have implications for 3 areas of management: organisational design, hierarchy and leadership.

Organisation design

People are social animals and not loners. Research has shown that around 150 members is the optimal number for tribes/clans. This may explain the dominant model worldwide for organisations that employ around 60% of all workers, ie under 150 people. Even in the larger organisations, there is a tendency for people to form cliques, functions, departments, divisions, teams, groups, etc. Several successful organisations spin off sub-units of around 50 people from the main body of a growing organisation, such as ABB and Virgin. In its early days when a Virgin firm hit 100 staff, it was divided into 2 separate organisations. This has been called the modular approach. Another term for this approach is the matrix structure, but this structure is inherently unstable because staff report to more than one boss.


This involves social relations and status seeking. The desire to obtain status in organisational settings is human nature. In most situations, the human instinct for status differentiation asserts itself. Even in small and temporary groupings of "all equals", such as training events that bring together strangers from different organisations, the beginnings of hierarchy can be immediately seen in patterns of informal leadership and differential behaviour. If status markers are eliminated in organisations, then fresh variations will spring up in their place. Status and hierarchy need to be managed in a flexible and fluid way. Furthermore, managers should recognize and reward employees through status recognition, such as financial and non-financial measures.

For groups and teams, it is worth noting that they

- should not exceed 12 members

- should not be run as strict democracies

- while building a common purpose and maintaining concepts of sharing and equal rights, need to expect and allow informal leadership roles to operate.

- need to watch out for herding (a tendency to imitate members regarded as having higher status rather than making one's own judgment.)

In the typical organisation there are contradictions, with staff being cynical about empowerment and mistrustful of downsizing/right sizing as they recognize the traditional power and hidden hierarchies are still present and in control of everyone's destiny.


Behavioural genetics suggests that people are born with set pre-dispositions that are hardened as they mature. Character traits such as shyness and emotional sensitivity are inborn. We all have our bio-genetic destiny, which suggests that along with each person's fundamental brain circuitry, people come with inborn personalities, such as dominance, optimism, etc. Trying to compensate for these underlying dispositions, through training or other forms of education, has little impact on changing deep-rooted inclinations.

The implications for leadership are

- the most important attribute of leadership is the desire to lead. Skills and competencies can be trained but the passion to lead cannot, ie leaders are born, not made. This means that the motivation to lead is a baseline requirement for competent leadership.

- leadership is situational, ie authoritarian, delegation, cooperation, collaboration, etc. The important thing is to have the personality profile that meets the demands of the situation

- it is vital to get people around you who complement your personality, ie shyness complemented by extroversion, etc


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