Building Your Tribe: The Art Of Embedding Culture

So here you are. You’ve been guiding your business through a transformation. It may be a digital transformation, M&A, remote working, or fast growth. You’ve designed the culture you need for future performance and strategy execution.

So now what?

Now comes the most difficult phase. How do you get your people to buy into, work with, support and enhance your changes to make them a reality? How do you fully embed change to ensure it becomes a part of your everyday new business?

Traditional culture change tends to be led by the top team, who set the culture or announce a change then cascade it down throughout the organisation. Often, particularly in big businesses with large staff numbers, the change process is handed over to HR or external consultants to manage the rollout. A communication plan usually underpins this type of change implementation, with maybe some behavioural training thrown in for good measure. While effective communication is undoubtedly part of the process, it is not the panacea of embedding cultural change, and this alone will not achieve your goals.

Alternatively, when an implementation is a functional-led approach it’s not ideal either. Practical changes to job functions, job titles, processes or department changes, will not necessarily guarantee the kind of human behaviour change to teams or individual work practises needed, and it certainly won’t inspire your team to buy-in.

In both of these examples, employees’ involvement is largely confined to unquestioned implementation. Forbes suggests this top-heavy approach typically results in a “lacklustre, impoverished change process, focused narrowly on only one or two big-ticket items.”


Importantly, the valuable insights that most employees have to offer are completely overlooked with this more traditional change management, which lacks appreciation for the idea’s employees have for organisational improvement, and the inherent power of enlisting employees through inclusion.

Winning Culture Is ‘We, Not Me’.

Clearly, there is a need for a more holistic approach to how we embed culture change. To know where to start, we need to go back to the basics of the human condition.

“A crowd is a tribe without communication. A crowd is a tribe without a leader. Smart organisations assemble a tribe”

– Seth Godin.

Our humanity dictates that we are social creatures. We need to belong to something bigger than ourselves and connect with others. We’re tribal, we’ve been building and belonging to tribes throughout time. Think suffragettes to the hippies of the 60’s, punks and bikers, through to book clubs and theatre groups. Consider too how tribes appear in business, be they the employees who work for a brand tribe, or hierarchical sub-tribes, labelled by their job function, seniority or location.

In 2008, the author, businessman and marketer Seth Godin created a business philosophy around the idea of building tribes

At the time, Godin was targeting brands and marketers in search of more authentic ways to build long term relationships with their customers. His methodology took off, and it became apparent that creating tribes was not only good for a brand’s customers, it was good for the business itself.

Building a tribe is a team-based approach to embedding cultural change. Team-based embedding avoids the top-down mandate of old, that relegates employees as bystanders in the process. Ownership of a change process by a team builds trust, belonging and engagement. 

It allows each team to get the support they need, by creating a bespoke approach to suit. It helps teams to take the top-level cultural changes and translate them into the qualities that make the most sense for them. There are other advantages too:


We know a great way to get buy-in is through ownership. Including a team in this way sets a path of self-monitoring and discovery. Teams will more quickly identify the actions that need to be taken and the improvements that need to be made when they own the process. They are also more likely to find fast and effective ways to achieve their outcomes when they feel in control.


A team-based approach will naturally encourage upskilling through the learning, improvement and self-development that takes place when every team member is actively engaged in the change process.


Teams can set their own pace in a change process. Negotiating the individual needs with a smaller group is easier, particularly in large-scale change projects where each team members individual journey is different. In this way, no one is left behind.


Teams can align to the work that they have on their plates, within the framework of a change process. They can cater to the ebbs and flows of business needs, ensuring seamless services for existing customers, and allowing teams to feel they can ‘get on’ with meaningful work through the process.


Working through change becomes more relevant when it is applied to small teams. Having practical and tangible changes applied to day-to-day operations helps with retaining individual productivity and performance, avoids overwhelm and supports team dynamics.

Embedding change through team may be considered ‘messy’, but that’s the point. It’s about allowing people control, letting them figure things out for themselves and go at their own pace. While some change managers won’t like that they can’t ‘tick off’ their milestones from their project plan, it’s more human, it’s more effective and more impactful, for people to buy own their own progress and the progress of their team.

Measuring improvement and impact is also messier this way, but the readings you do get are a true reflection of current state of play, rather than a ticked milestone of who attended a workshop.

While building a tribe takes time, and team-based embedding requires a whole of organisation commitment, companies like Lego, Kathmandu, Zappos and Netflix are global benchmarks of this model in action and its potential to transform your business.

It’s time for a new approach to embedding cultural change. Will you rise to the challenge?

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It’s to act with yesterday’s logic”

– Peter Drucker

How We Can Help

Here at Culture Consultancy, we have the tools and skills to enable your people to transform the organisational culture, team by team, to the newly defined culture. This can be at department, divisional, location or company level.

Our unique approach provides built-in flexibility. Teams can be cross-functional or sub-teams, with each group having their own timetable, albeit within the overall culture change milestones.

Engaging Communications is a large part of our programme and our 4E  Principles of Human Change come into their own here. We deliver a cyclical change model which enables behaviours and mindsets to feed off each other; enabling people to not only engage with change but also to build the skills and outlooks required to deliver change.

The 4E principles of human change

We start with Educate; providing people with the understanding and rationale behind proposed changes. This is where you take your people on the change journey, helping them to set aside the fight or flight response to change and to build a positive vision of the future. Remember, educating is not training or instructing. Rather it is about helping the other person to learn and understand.

This in turn opens up the way for people to Engage with change. Engagement is a consistent two-way dialogue that evolves over time, helping individuals to intellectually and emotionally buy into change and be ready to support it in a positive way. Successful engagement has to speak to both the logical (the who, what, why) as well as the emotional (job satisfaction, resonating with personal values) sides of the brain.

Engagement enthusiasm will quickly either way unless you Empower your people to take ownership and responsibility for delivering change. You can’t meaningfully engage people inside a command-and-control regime, so this is where team-based implementation, or tribes, comes into their own. Setting the parameters for a shared culture creation starts here, with leaders and managers creating the conditions for empowerment through delegation, trust, and setting appropriate boundaries and expectations.

Finally, the focus is on how to Enable people to act, equipping them with skills and structures they need and removing barriers to action. When people are supported within the right environment, they can build the confidence to interact and create solutions. It is this interaction which is crucial in delivering lasting change.

Our Approach

We take a programmatic approach to the review, prioritisation, re-design and implementation of your required changes. This forms part of an overall implementation roadmap. We shape that roadmap, leveraging other strategic initiatives or change projects that are already underway, so you are achieving the best value from your investment and the fastest traction possible.

We’ll also provide culture programme leadership, support and challenge to both assure delivery to time, cost and quality and to provide input on specific re-designs e.g., behaviours frameworks, internal communications, process changes.

If you’d like to discuss our support programmes in more detail or if we can help your business implement team-based culture change, please get in touch.


Derek Bishop
Derek is a Director and Co-Founder of Culture Consultancy. As an expert on culture change, leadership development and customer experience he is considered one of the leading thinkers on creating high-performance cultures, enabling the turnaround of under-performing businesses and shaping new start-ups for corporates. He is also a keynote speaker covering topics such as leadership excellence, high performing teams, organisational culture, creating alignment throughout the end to end service delivery chain, customer service excellence and leveraging the value of outsourcing.
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