Belonging To A Warrior Culture


Thanks to the Internet and all things digital, the lines between our personal and professional lives have all but disappeared. Poof. Gone.

Companies like Apple, Google, Pixar and Zappos spotted this cultural shift early and created a new normal rather than imposing rules and policies to reinforce the “old” cultural structure. They leaned in to the cultural trend and established the practices that many companies are now moving quickly to adopt.

At its essence, organizational culture is how people feel and behave within an organization. Corporate culture applies to companies, just as school climate applies to schools. Research proves that people who are happy are more successful – in organizations, companies, and in schools. The happier the people, the smarter they work, and the more successful the organization.

With the lines blurred, employees today expect to find meaning, belonging, and happiness at work as well as a pay check.  Addressing this cultural shift in a purposeful way should matter a lot to companies that want to attract, retain, and capitalize on the individual and collective genius of their talent pool. Establishing and maintaining a culture should also matter to companies that want to move into an elite status, to lead in their category, and to rock the world.

There are many ways to look at corporate culture. To keep it simple, let’s understand culture as a balance between establishing a culture of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. Here, we look at belonging to understand its value to our corporate culture.


Ubuntu is a South African philosophy for belonging. In Zulu, it is pronounced ùɓúntʼú. It means “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu through a story.

“A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

You can here him tell the story here:

Ubuntu at Hampden-Sydney College

Established in 1775, Hampden-Sydney College is one of the oldest colleges in the United States and one of three remaining men’s colleges in the country. The students and alumni of Hampden-Sydney call each other brother. They have adopted the philosophy of ubuntu and are grounded in the principal that the brotherhood will be with you in your darkest hour and in your moment of triumph. As the President of the college explains: “Know that you will always have a classmate to your right, a teacher to your left, an administrator in front of you, and a coach behind you.”

This circle of belonging was evident when a basketball player was absent from practice one day. Upon learning that their teammate was caring for his dying mother her final hours, the team left practice and drove several hours to surround his home. At that moment in time, it was more important for the team to stand together in solidarity and in strength as brothers, than to practice for the big game that week.

Circle of Courage

The Lakota, a Native American tribe living in the Dakotas, also speak of the importance of belonging through the framework they call The Circle of Courage. Based on four principals – belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity – The Circle of Courage serves as a guide to foster an individual and collective spirit of cooperation and excellence, which translates nicely into a template for corporate culture. Invest in your people, just as you would any other asset, and you will realize a significant return on investment.

Belonging is found in the acceptance, attention, and caring of others. When someone feels like they belong to a group, they are more receptive and responsive to group influence and training. Lack of belonging promotes gangs within communities, silos within organizations, and bad behavior in general. Corporate culture takeaway: Fostering authentic trusting relationships promote a sense of belonging and are critical to the success of any organization.

The Work

In order to foster a sense of belonging:

– provide time for people to make personal and professional connections. “Casual collisions” or connections provide the most traction. Until or unless you are able to redesign your office floor plan, establish meaningful time for people to gather to share personal or professional individual stories until they have developed shared stories – “remember when we won the Toyota account . . . . ”

– create meaningful ways for people to collaborate and work together on projects.

– allow people to provide honest feedback and respond/act on that feedback.

– model and reinforce trust, respect, and dignity. Do not tolerate bad actors.

– hire the right people. Generally start with nice people and then look for people whose beliefs are in line with your organization’s mission.

– avoid cliques. If necessary, change the desks and work space, partnerships, and even where people sit during meetings.

– foster individual self-expression as long as the belief system and best practice is maintained. Generally, a belief system will adopt a spirit of the team moving as one so the rigidity of a best practice is not necessary. If everyone is suppose to wear the uniform, then naturally everyone wears the uniform. To do otherwise would be to act outside of the circle of belonging. The more intense the feeling of belonging, the more they will move as one.

– in meetings, and whenever possible, make time for everyone to contribute. Allow sufficient time for open discussions and questions. Don’t allow the “talkers” to take over meetings. Ask “quiet” people questions so they feel they have permission to speak.

– look for ways to support individuals who are struggling. Leaders should speak openly about good days as well as bad days – “we’ve all been there.” Don’t wait for someone to ask for help, make certain that there are mechanisms in place to recognize and react to people who need help.

– celebrate successes as teams. Recognition of individuals should be framed as a “team” victory and a recognition of the abilities of their team members.

– have lots of fun.

In the blogs that follow, we will learn how to strengthen mastery, independence, and generosity and maintain a balanced state within the Circle of Courage framework.

Mastery develops as a person masters the environment and becomes competent in important skills. When a person feels competent, they are motivated to pursue further achievements. When a person feels incompetent, they are easily frustrated and retreat from further learning. Those with mastery are seen as a model, not as a competitor, as arrogance was not tolerated. Therefore, success is a possession of many, not the privilege of few. Mastery means an increase in the group’s ability to successfully negotiate their environment while chronic failure stifles motivation and lowers morale. Corporate culture takeaway: As Richard Branson famously says, “train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Independence is shown in the ability to control one’s behavior and gain the respect of others. Those lacking power feel helpless and without influence. Persons without a sense of autonomy come to see themselves as pawns in a world where others control their destiny. To the Lakota, survival outside of the camp circle was dependent upon making independent judgments; therefore training to become independent began in early childhood. People who are independent are self-motivated, self-regulated, and own their failure or their success irrespective of rewards. Corporate culture takeaway: Trust your

Generosity is your contribution to the tribe’s greater good and your significance to others. What’s mine is yours because we are one is a typical theme that resonates throughout a healthy culture. It is not only important to model generosity but it is also to promote ways to show and appreciate acts of generosity. Generosity is the fulfillment of a person’s belonging, mastery, and independence.