Who’s In Your Tribe?

When I was in college, and for six years afterwards, I rowed every day (weather permitting). Sometimes I rowed with eight women, sometimes with four. The sport demands that crews form tight bonds because it helps the team row with more synchronicity. You must put your oar in the water at precisely the same time as the others and with a similar pitch and speed. It was intensely demanding mentally and physically. It taught me a super exaggerated form of teamwork that has since remained unmatched in my life. Equally unmatched was my physical condition, but not for lack of trying.

In search of my former physique, I joined a new gym a few years ago. I found it to be a pleasant, low-key place where people kept to themselves. I was yearning for some sense of camaraderie. It wasn’t obvious how to make that happen, so I began a social experiment.

In the locker room, I began to break the ice. Just a joke here or there. I’d ask people their names. Some days, I’d toss in a conversation starter such as, “Nice running shoes, are you liking those?” It took time, but I began to notice that more people started doing the same. Today, the locker room is a big chat fest–women talk freely about their lives, their bodies, and show off their scars. The decibel level has inched up considerably.

This is my fitness tribe. I am proud to say it’s a community I had a hand in building. Reading Seth Godin‘s new book Tribes reinforced the power of this simple level of leadership. Godin defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to each other, to a leader and to an idea.” There is still something powerful about tribes, and that is the feeling of belonging. And if connecting to one another involves an arduous physical task, such as physical exercise, the tribe’s bonds grow stronger.

I may never step foot in a crew shell again. Those days are behind me. But I can still experience the elation of my fitness tribe. And I do. Now, I am looking at applying what I learned at the gym to how we help clients build tribes around ideas.