The Purposeful Enterprise: Communities, Collaboration, Kanban, and Tribes

The Purposeful Enterprise integrates Communities, Collaboration, Kanban, and Tribes.

As background,

Additionally, consider Etienne Wenger’s Communities of Practice and David Cushman’s profound insights around Communities and Business (Communities of Purpose being the Business Units of the 21st century).

From all this (among more ideas) emerges the notion of the Purposeful Enterprise (or Tribal Enterprise) that integrates Communities, Collaboration, Kanban, and Tribes.

Organizations Today

Today, an organization or enterprise is a “system” that is statically composed of structural units (business units, divisions, departments, etc.) and dynamically operates using processes. Its structures and processes are integrated and organized around externally- and internally-facing products & services as well as projects and teams.

  • Products & services establish targets as ends (or “bundles of value”, authentic or otherwise).
  • Projects are institutional instruments to manage effort, targeting products & services.
  • Structural units are institutional instruments to organize people and resources as means.
  • Teams are institutional instruments to organize people, integrating structural units and projects.
  • Management is an institutional instrument to compound human effort.

While Gary Hamel explores if we have reached the end of Management due to being limited by our DNA, we must also explore if we have reached the end of our Organizations (Product Management, Project Management, Product Development, etc.) — we are all “prisoners of our paradigms”.

The Purposeful Enterprise

The Purposeful Enterprise is a Community-of-Communities or Constellation-of-Communities or Tribe-of-Tribes.

  • A community is a group of people with a common passion through identity, engagement, and meaning.
  • A community of interest (CoI) focuses on a common interest.
  • A community of practice (CoPr) focuses on a common area of practice or something that members do, generally known as a discipline.
  • A community of purpose (CoPu) focuses on a common purpose, which emanates from common values, vision, and passion.
  • Tribes emerge as a community of purpose with a leader and voluntary members.

The Purposeful Enterprise integrates these social aspects.

  • A Kanban system is a simple “synchronization” tool for maximizing throughput.
  • Collaboration involves purposeful contribution and confirmation using flow and pull. (Passion, Engagement, Purpose)
  • Leanness, Agility, and Competitiveness focus on competency, culture, observe-orient-decide-act cycles, and value.

Towards the Purposeful Enterprise

Today’s organizations may progress towards becoming Purposeful Enterprises by fostering Tribal Leaders, including Value Champions who represent Markets & Business (generally from the Product Management, planning and marketing, side-of-the-house) and Innovation Champions who represent Technology (generally from the Product Development/Engineering side-of-the-house).


(click figure to enlarge)

Vision of the Purposeful Enterprise

As today’s organizations further progress towards becoming Purposeful Enterprises, Tribal Leaders will need to embrace Markets & Business & Technology (generally from every side-of-the-house).

Every aspect of the Vision of the Purposeful Enterprise is “grounded in reality” (derived from more-empirical and less-anecdotal evidence). Consider GoogleYahoo & Microsoft, and Microsoft vs. Yahoo.


(click figure to enlarge)


13 thoughts on “The Purposeful Enterprise: Communities, Collaboration, Kanban, and Tribes

  1. Si,

    Interesting post. I had a few questions/comments.

    Q) Can tribal leadership emerge when not all the members are passionate enough to be connected to the cause? What if members are assigned, as opposed to volunteering?

    Q) What mechanisms exist for conflict resolution within the tribe and between tribes?

    Q) Will the tribe prevent actions in direct opposition to team goals and/or other tribal members? Not every member will act in an egalitarian manner.

    Q) Is Kanban an effective way for the tribes to communicate when they do not always share the same value system, language and/or base of knowledge? Is common purpose authentic?

    Q) Will feedback occur during synchronization? (i.e., When do tribes re-orient?)


  2. Very interesting synthesis of several interrelated constructs. It just goes to show that there is more than one way to get to heaven. Each ideology is a rich interpretation, presenting its own approach to open source synthesis. This synthesis suggests a creatively designed dialectic in which the various theses are operating in a roughly correlate fashion. There are common fractals present. The thinking is certainly elevated. Strange attractors rule. Please continue to drive this line of thought. Thank you.

  3. David Cushman’s Faster Future: Publishing possibilities now and beyond

    Opening up the enterprise – powered by purpose (July 06, 2009)
    Opening up the enterprise – powered by purpose (July 06, 2009)

    Here’s a monumental post from change management consultant Si Alhir synthesising many great and powerful concepts including Seth’s Tribes and my own Communities of Purpose, among others.

    The Purposeful Enterprise also includes links to a great deal of valuable background reading.
    The diagram here gives you a taste. It’s from si’s original post. Click to enlarge it.

    Worth a read for anyone contemplating the role, form and function of organisations in the networked world.

  4. I propose that we disassociate the concept of ‘tribe’ from ‘purpose,’ because the word ‘tribe’ in its original sense means the involuntary membership in a community purely by virtue of a common trait that the members do NOT control and CANNOT change: race, religion, ethnicity, geographical location, or family. A purposeful enterprise, on the other hand, should only be defined as the voluntary collaboration of independent people for a common purpose.

    In the past, and indeed in many current situations, there are no efficient mechanisms to form, manage, and retire purposeful enterprises. Technology is a major change agent in this regard. For example, Si’s very post brought together an ‘enterprise’ of people who have a common ‘purpose’ in understanding or defining this concept. It was very easy for us to communicate.

    Because technology makes this process so efficient, we have the luxury of taking part in many more enterprises than in the past; in fact, we have the luxury of re-defining ‘enterprise’ in a very loose, transitory way. Previously, we were confined solely to our jobs or local clubs. Now, the whole world is our oyster.

    Some related discussion at this link:

  5. Hi Si,

    I see you’ve been staying up late and synthesizing ideas… you present interesting possibilities. These are timely ideas as we and our companies are all changing faster than we probably ever thought they would. The old industrial heirarchical companies of the last 150 years are melting away in waves of downsizing and restructuring.

    Something new is also being born; it’s hard to understand just what it is and it is certainly still a work much in progress. Keep working these ideas of yours and take them to the next level.

    What would a “day in the life” look like for a tribe member working in a purposeful enterprise? How would this person go about doing their work and how would they interact with other tribe members and with people belonging to other tribes that they needed to work with in order to get a job done?

    Best regards,
    Michael Hugos

  6. Si – a wonderful post, incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking. I’m also deeply impressed by the comments that others before me have posted, obviously a group of people who have thought deeply about this subject. At this point in time I feel that I’m only prepared to offer some observations and questions to further move the conversation along.

    An observation: I spent nearly the entire day today on the phone with fortune 100 clients. Every call revolved around the idea that their people are going to have to do “more with less.” The pressure was going to increase significantly, more people would likely lose their jobs, and the expectations for performance would be ratcheted up to an even higher level combined with a relentless drive to hold people accountable for their performance. Question: How do you create a purposeful organization under this kind of pressure?

    An observation: I have been facilitating advanced leadership classes for “high performers” at a number of companies worldwide. In the last three years I have seen a huge shift in the mindset of these immensely talented people from: “How can I become an executive vice president/president/CEO within seven years.” To: “Respect and meaning are the most important things in my job, if I do not feel like I am treated fairly and that my ideas are taken seriously — and that my job has significant meaning beyond just generating profits for the corporation — then I want out of here.” Question: is this new attitude helping to drive the purposeful enterprise movement?

    An observation: in a true “tribe-like” situation, highly talented and purpose driven people join the tribe voluntarily. A Peter Drucker quote which I saw on an earlier version of your figure made the point that knowledge workers have the ability to choose where they want to deploy their value — but the marketplace does not currently support that level of flexibility for anyone except the absolute highest level talent. Question: can you have a purposeful enterprise if people feel that they do not truly have viable options for other meaningful employment. In other words, if they are not actually there voluntarily?

    I’ll conclude by adding another element into the mix. I have just finished reading “One From Many” the story of the formation of the Visa card network by Dee Hock. In this absolutely amazing book he puts forth the idea of the “Chaordic Organization” – that is a “self organizing” enterprise that rises from nearly pure chaos, driven only by a strong and unifying vision combined with people of incredible talent and integrity. It sounds like an almost impossible idea, except for that is exactly what he accomplished as he built the Visa organization. (by the way, if you have not read this book it is an absolute must read.) Question: How does the idea “chaordic organizations” fit in to the purposeful enterprise theory?

    Si, I truly hope that my musings have offered some value and will at least serve to generate a few new ideas and concepts. Thank you so much for the invitation to participate in this extremely interesting conversation and even more importantly, thank you for contributing your ideas to such a meaningful and important topic.

    Take good care my friend — John Spence

  7. Very interesting material. John Boyd came to similar conclusions about how organizations should work when he created his Maneuver Conflict model for strategy.

    One thing that is very important is how leaders are trained. A loosely coupled purposeful organization needs very competent leaders at all levels.

    Selecting leaders can be done from the top down, as in most companies, or from the bottom up. I lean towards bottom up, because that allows the people most familiar with the working environment to choose.

    Gore Ltd. has used bottom up selection of leaders since the fifties with excellent results. They are one of the few large companies that expect to move forward during the current recession.

    Back to Boyd: Boyd created a leadership concept that I believe is very useful in a purposeful enterprise: The IOHAI concept.

    IOHAI stands for:

    Insight – This is analysis skill, which would include formal training in an analysis method, for example Crawford Slip (information gathering, brainstorming, and analysis)
    Orientation – This means to be consciously aware of several paradigms. This would include basic training in Systems Thinking, Lean, TOC, Agile, etc. Leaders are expected to be able to _shift_ paradigms in order to attack a problem from different angles.
    Harmony – This is the ability to synthesize a picture from the pieces identified during analysis. The Logical Thinking Process is one method of doing this. Six Thinking Hats could also work.
    Agility – (Yes, Boyd was agile before us) The ability to adapt, and respond quickly to change. Necessary skills would include some queueing theory (including effects of multitasking and task switching) or equivalent, for example understanding of Lean kanban systems or TOC’s Drum-Buffer-Rope. A basic understanding of variation (randomness) and its effects on processes is also necessary.
    Initiative – A leader must dare to take initiative. This requires an organization that is free from fear. Mistakes that can be learned from must be rewarded, not punished. People must be evaluated on the processes they followed, not the results, because the results are heavily influenced by random factors. (Compare with Toyota’s Management By Means model, and how airplane accidents are investigated.)

    Of course, learning all of this takes time, (less time than one might think though,) so it is necessary to instill the basic knowledge, not just the shared value, in every potential leader, i.e. in the entire organization.

    The U.S. Marine Corps has an interesting way of doing this: There is a common basic training for everyone, of course, but there is also a corporate reading program, which helps give corps members a common outlook and knowledge base.

    Richard Branson at Virgin is doing something similar in a business setting. Virgin Group is a network organization. Their purpose is embodied in their brand values. Branson has written books about Virgin, partly to spread the values and culture to Virgin employees. His latest, Business Stripped Bare, is worth reading.

    There is a growing number of people who realize that the way most companies do business can be improved upon.

    Si, I believe that the next generation companies will be the kind of purposeful enterprises you describe in this post. What we need now is a new generation of business leaders bold enough to use the ideas that have emerged from many different sources over the past few decades.

  8. I find it extremely refreshing that these discussions seem to be gaining momentum and found your post to be quite thought provoking. As always, I believe you’ve done a fine job taking the best from many excellent sources and have brought them together in a way that truly increases the value proposition.

    While many individuals and organizations continue to look for ways to reduce the failure rate of traditional projects, the adoption of a more Agile approach often only leads to the discovery that there are much larger issues that must be addressed. Unfortunately, this often leaves “decision makers” puzzled as to what the next appropriate steps should be. We can no longer accept the idea that it is enough to simply get better at executing projects that were selected, initiated, and “resourced” in the same manner. Instead, we must learn from those that have made great strides towards harnessing the potential that can only be tapped through mutual engagement and true collaboration.

    A colleague recently suggested that an effective project manager must serve to motivate teams and that this is critical to the success of projects. Unfortunately, the “success” of a project is somewhat subjective. It is my belief that executing successful projects should no longer be the goal. Instead, let’s focus on striving for true innovation and the delivery of real value; in which case, I’ll take a team with a sense of shared purpose over a team with a stellar project manager any day of the week.

  9. You asked: “we must also explore if we have reached the end of our Organizations”

    What if our organizations were allowed to evolve and respond to their environments more quickly. What if we allowed our organizations to develop their own conciousness. It would not be the end of our organizations but the emergence of the next order of organizational being. Check out the organizational practice called Holacracy at for a great introduction white paper.

  10. A very insightful post weaving together many constructs into a coherent whole (much like the task of leaders in purposeful organisations). Thank you for sharing.

    There are a couple of things that struck me in your analysis in line with some of the work I have done.

    The first is that as long as transaction costs and frictions still exist (and they will for some time to come) it may well be necessary for the purposeful organisation (which I call the real organization) to coexist with the “formal” organizations that exist today. In fact, from a leader’s point of view, it is helpful to think of every organization as being both a real and formal organization.

    This formal organization contains within it the energy necessary to the delivery of the formal objectives. The role of the leader, much like the one of a project manager in agile projects is to connect with the real organization, align the energy to the delivery of the formal objective and maintain that alignment.

    To do this not only requires highly competent leaders as Henrik mentions above but, perhaps more importantly, mature ones. Executive maturity ensures that leaders are not tempted to destroy the value of the real by coercing it towards a formal outcome in their search for the comfort of control. The three key elements of success become trust (in order to be accepted in the organization), meaning (the glue that holds the community together in its search for value) and dialogue (the practice that maintains alignment). I call this form of leadership connected leadership.

    In the research for my latest book (Leadershift – reinventing leadership for the age of mass collaboration) it became clear to me that leaders are still struggling to move away from the transactionally driven model of organizations (is engineering a hierarchy of value depending on amount spent or performance given) and therefore find it hard to recognize the dynamic nature of the purposeful organization. For this time must be spent developing clearer understanding of the shape of communities (I find agile tools such as scrum useful here).

    As we learn to revalue the social and communal nature of work and understand the communities we lead we can then start to reshape our leadership tools and instincts. As I mentioned to others recently, whilst it sounds rather flippant to say that self organisation needs to be organized I suggest that there are four conditions which need to be in place for communities to be productive. I called these

    Simplicity (a coherent and simple way to engage),

    Narrative (an underpinning story for people to align to),

    Tasks (a clear set of tasks which participants can measure against their self image) and

    Love (the willingness to commit to making others stronger).

    These simple elements should also address the very real need highlighted by John above of doing more with less. Currently leaders have to invest a lot of time, energy and cash in managing transactions which only require managing because of the nature of the organizational design. By recognizing the value of purposeful organizing, much attention can be refocused from transactional management to value added leadership.

    Again thank you so much for getting me thinking and challenging all of us to come up with better insights.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s