Friday, 14 August 2015

Does a successful tribe need management? Or is it better without?

I have recently taken up climbing and although a complete novice I am enjoying it tremendously. I am also a member of the rowing club, triathlon club and canoe club and have always assumed that long-term success depends upon training, development, performance and growth. But those assumptions have been challenged. Could the opposite be true?

My reasoning

My thinking is based on the idea that members come and go and to be successful clubs and societies need to recruit, nurture, support, develop and say goodbye. Inevitably this means catering for a range of membership based on age (youth, juniors, seniors, veterans) and a range of talent (novice, intermediate, advanced, elite). The successful clubs and societies may have separate sections or sub-committees to manage the differing needs, expectations and challenges but overall having the right balance makes for a good community who have a blend of talent and experience to be able to help each-other.

Clearly a club of 3 members is unlikely achieve the above, and one of 3000 is likely to be far too big to be manageable. Most clubs and societies are like tribes and have their own cultures, rules, rituals and relationships and, like most tribes, work best when active membership is between 100 to 250 (See Link 1 below).

It is interesting to note that most people on Facebook have 150 friends, Linked-In assumes most people have < 500 connections. Most weddings apparently have 100 – 150 guests. There appears to be accepted boundaries for the size of a tribe and if membership goes beyond those boundaries we see splits and divisions. Notably there are so many people cycling in Jersey that we’d seen the number of bike clubs go from one to two, and then when each of them had more than 100 members then fragment into 5 separate clubs.

On the basis of the above, I had assumed that any successful clubs or societies would aspire to have between 100 to 250 members and structure itself to offer opportunities to all the ages and abilities of that membership, with just the right amount of organisation to manage the communication, activity and culture that holds it all together.

The counter-argument

Interestingly the counter-argument is a little more laissez faire and proposes that the best communities and bonds are formed when people are tenacious enough to pursue their interests without formal organisation, training, development, support etc.,

In relation to climbing bigger equals more people. There are many crowded climbing venues now in the world. Where people queue for routes; Litter, erosion & wear all become issues with greater numbers. Not to mention conflict.

It has been put to me that “People who are genuinely interested in climbing find their way to us; People with a drive and commitment to go climbing. Come to us and we support them as they learn. They are not trained or drilled. They take time to learn themselves, with our input and advice, and they do it well. The door to this community is open, always, to anyone who is genuinely motivated to make the effort. This effort sorts things out well for us. It reduces the casual have a go people dramatically”

This approach is seen as an apprenticeship, without the need for investing time and effort. Albeit that apprenticeship is not for the young because that way there is no need “…to cater to child protection…” and “... we don’t have to attend training or fulfil any other criteria…”

After years of routine, regiment and training this no rules, no responsibility, community is actually quite appealing.

My climbing counsellor has ridiculed my orthodox thinking and concluded “We like our climbing community, we like it small, strong, colourful and individualistic. We keep our rules down. Climbers have historically been a little rebellious, anti establishment, individualistic, independent. When you’re on the sharp end of a climb, that’s what it takes the ability to think for yourself to move and to take responsibility for your actions. These traits are something a little different from your normal swimming club for example. As such climbers are not organised or structured, they are little difficult to handle but they still get out there and have fun, all the time.”

A new perspective

I find this new perspective interesting because it relieves members of any ‘obligation’ to help others and instead pursues the “sink or swim” approach to natural selection. It inevitably achieves the aim of keeping the tribe manageable without the need for management and relies on talent and temperament rather than tutors and training. Without rules or regime success is a function of resilience.

Maybe more organisations should operate like this?



Tim Rogers is an experienced Project and Change Leader. He is founder of and curator for www.TEDxStHelier.Com . He is Programme Manager for the commercialization of Jersey Harbours and Jersey Airport, and previously Operations Change and Sales Support for RBSI/NatWest, and Project Manager for the Incorporation of Jersey Post. He is also Commonwealth Triathlete and World Championships Rower with a passion for teaching and learning and is a Tutor/Mentor on the Chartered Management Institute courses. He is a Chartered Member of the British Computer Society, has an MBA (Management Consultancy) and is both a PRINCE2 and Change Management Practitioner.

Tim HJ Rogers
PRINCE2 - MBA (Consultancy) - APMG Change Practitioner | Twitter @timhjrogers | Skype @timhjrogers | Mobile: 07797762051
Curator TEDxStHelier
Founder ciChange

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