Going Tribal: When Globalization Fails

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Much ado about globalization has occurred over the past two decades. Spurred by technology, the ease of travel and our never-ending appetite for cheap products, our globe has seemingly grown smaller as more and more cultures connect to do business.

However, trends are often accompanied by counter-trends. This simply means that a segment of the population pulls in the opposite direction as a means to counter a trend they do not like. For example, the modern trend of ever-present technology is increasingly facing a counter-trend of ‘unplugging’. There are vacations designed to help people unplug and even recovery groups for those addicted to technology (similar to AA).

Europe is currently in the midst a major counter-trend against globalization.  It is called tribalism and I believe that its’ impact will signal a major change in the globalization norms we have experienced in recent decades. Tribalism refers to a way of thinking or behaving that places your loyalty with your ‘tribe’ (a group with whom you share affinity) rather than to your country, social group or friends. While globalization has quietly turned us into a global village, tribalism seeks to ensure that we take care of the needs of our own little village first! Here are two examples of how tribalism is currently manifesting itself in Europe.

  1. Immigration. There is tremendous backlash in many parts of Europe as a result of the major influx of refugees that many countries have experienced. A country like Germany has been welcoming millions of immigrants with open arms (an example of an attitude that embraces globalization). At the same time, we see other countries closing their borders and citizens mounting protests against immigration (an example of tribalism).
  2. Brexit. On June 23, British citizens will vote to determine if their nation will leave the European Union (EU). This issue is closely related to many of the issues noted above regarding immigration and perceptions that leaving the EU will protect British financial interests (consider the recent monetary bailouts for Greece). To loosely quote Shakespeare, this referendum can be summarized as,”To be globalized or to be tribalized. That is the question“.

The counter trend of tribalism also manifests itself in our workplaces. For example, business departments that seek their own needs ahead of the company they work for are demonstrating an aspect of tribalism. Concerns about members of the same family working for the same company or department (typically called nepotism) also relates to concerns about tribalism.

Globalism and tribalism and complex issues that I cannot adequately debate in this short blog. However, awareness about this tug of war between global and tribal priorities is something that we each need to develop. Expect it to continue to increase in significance in the decade ahead.

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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com


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