Building Tribes

Power. Love. Leadership and cooperation. Agile. Anthropology.

Jitske Kramer


Whoever hasn’t jumped on the band wagon of agile, self-management, participation processes, shared leadership, self-organization, swarms, co-creation, inclusion, cross-chain partnerships… is running far behind. Or so it appears. It seems as if we have to entirely reinvent ourselves, and our leadership. Jitske believes that is only partially true. Because humanity has centuries of experience in working together, living together, conferring, making decisions and changing. We can draw from that experience. Anthropological insights that can help to create and maintain strong and healthy organizations. Tribes for the future. Challenge yourself to consider how your secret tribal delights about cooperation and leadership fit in today’s modern open organizations.

A lecture full of great stories and anthropological lessons about the interplay of Power & Love and the importance of good interaction and decision-making. With a call for no more meetings, and for lighting campfires instead. Based on the book Building Tribes.

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To form healthy organizations, the interaction and decision-making process has to be properly organized. That can be done in meetings, but it would be better to do so over campfire conversations. In addition to theory on how people build tribes, the book Building Tribes also describes nine different types of campfire conversations. All of that is too much to cover in one lecture. So we have to choose. During the intake session over the phone, we coordinate the needs and possibilities within the available time. This can include the following options:

  • Tribes for the future. About the necessary force of power and love. About the impact of different types of interaction and decision-making. About autocratic and directive leadership and shared and supportive leadership. About the archetypal tribal roles that are necessary to shape a strong organization culture and to change it.
  • No more meetings, ever. If there’s one thing people do a lot, it is talk. Confer. Debate. Sitting across from each other in silence, giggling, gossiping… people shape tribes and cultures in interaction and decision-making. And we have developed many different ways, habits and rituals around that. Jitske travels the world, looking for these types of dialogue. To experience, understand and translate them to the context of organizations. In organizations, we have decided that the best way to meet is with spreadsheets and action lists, seated around big square tables. Endless meetings in which many just count the minutes until it’s over. That is why this lecture starts with the call for no more meetings, ever. Then, it makes a unique journey along many forms of meeting; the silent meetings of the Quakers, the singing battles of the Inuit, the oracle ceremonies of the Greeks, the advice sessions of the marabouts in Gambia, the Kgotla courts in Botswana, the ruthless saying ‘sorry’ during the Hara Kiri in ancient Japan, and the screaming conversations in post-apartheid South Africa. After this lecture, you will never want to attend a traditional meeting again.
  • Tribal Connections: network partners and chain cooperation. No single organization, no single tribe, exists in a vacuum. There are always other tribes to work with, to sell things to, to take into account, to compete with. Sometimes this is a peaceful process and sometime it’s tough going. We can enter into an intense bond through profound trade relations and intermarriage. Or by building walls, stealing brides and head hunting. This is a lecture in which we travel the world to learn how people work with other tribes. Anthropological lessons that you can directly apply to your own network of relationships, chain cooperation and co-creation associations. A vibrant lecture full of stories about tribal wars, peace pipes, cultural differences and how to bridge them. Cooperative bonds that traverse organizational boundaries must contribute added value for all parties involved. They must reinforce the various organizational aims. And precisely because such forms of cooperation demand extra effort from everyone, the creation of a common totem and language are especially important. Because, can we be (almost) as proud of the chain cooperation or the knowledge center as of our own tribe at home?
  • Magic Marketing and sales. How do you create the ultimate client experience, an outstanding customer journey and genuine customer intimacy? How do you organize your sales in the short and the long term? Are customers prey to be hunted down, or potential members of your extended family? These questions have been asked by people all over the world for centuries. In this lecture, we travel around the world to learn from all kinds of cultures how you offer customers a unique experience so that they in turn are generous loyal followers of your brand. We go to Iran, where Bakhtiari nomads teach us lessons about the value of a product. We attend an Indian wedding to learn about circles of relations and get a better understanding of the different meanings of a contract by hearing about doing business in Dubai. Stories from faraway lands will inspire you to look at your own, Dutch or international, customer relations from a different perspective. Worldly wisdom for the smart entrepreneur.
  • Mergers & Acquisitions... just like marriage. They’re just so… different. Months and sometime even years later, there are still different blood groups. Mergers are a major undertaking for leaders and employees. It’s easier if you know what to expect. Mergers are as old as humankind. We have known for a long time how people, families and tribes merge and which structures and rituals ensure that the new relationship is a promising one. We call this marriage, in which entire kinship systems intermingle. Humankind has gained a lot of experience in this over time. Powerful anthropological lessons that allow mergers & acquisitions to be successful. In this keynote, you will learn how different groups can merge. From choosing the new name, to the location, the internal power relationships and the power of the ‘liminal phase’ between the old and the new situation. A keynote about organizations, but not in the usual management jargon. We consider questions such as: who is going to move in with whom? How do we determine the dowry? Is it romantic love, a shotgun wedding or an arranged marriage? And who is doing the arranging? Is it a marriage of equals or is there a kidnapped bride? Can we maintain our own identity if we merge with a much bigger partner? Who’s going to be the new boss, or chief? What will it be like to work with “them” once we have merged? Are our processes and procedures very different? What will happen to our totem, to what is important to us?


During a masterclass there is more time for questions and how to translate the topics to your organization. In the Build Your Tribe Master Class, we work on the campfires mentioned in the book. With the department, and the whole organization. We can do so with ten people or hundreds at a time; for larger groups, we will bring a team of facilitators.

  • Are there several issues to be discussed? Decisions to be made? Then we opt for the Kgotla campfire conversation.
  • It is a merger or acquisition? Then we will offer a lecture about what we can learn from marriage rituals and we will only light the business marriage campfire.
  • Do you want a fresh perspective on the sales process and the sales talks and techniques? Then opt for the Ta’arof campfire conversation with lessons from the ancient Silk Road.
  • Tired of all that talking and ready to listen to what’s really going on? A silent campfire.
  • ...and so much more.

In tribes, many meetings take place around campfires. Fire has always served an important function in the cohesion and growth of tribes. Throughout the day, you have all kinds of conversations about daily activities; could you do this, did you see that... These are transactional conversations in which we exchange assignments and activities, but in which we do not make any new discoveries together. In the evening, around the fire, there is time to share stories, doubts and dreams and to ask questions. People think, laugh, cry and sing together. These are conversations in which there is actual contact and in which contact is renewed and deepened. They are transformational conversations. In organizations and families, it is important to have many of these, and enough of these. During the Build Your Tribe master class, we are eager to light the fire!

Important: we can literally light campfires, even create a complete experience at a campsite, in nature. But campfires can also be lit figuratively; with good conversations, inside, in circles, walking or seated at tables. At a conference center or any other great space.

In the intake session, we discuss the themes and what type of campfire conversation is needed in your organization’s stage of development or change. And then we get to work. We alternate good stories with good conversations. We create an atmosphere in which everyone feels invited to voice their opinion and share their emotions. A good intervention during a change process, the start of a new process, the end of a process, a renewed acquaintance. Build Your Tribe.

Jitske Kramer travels all over the world to learn from traditional healers, leaders, surprising innovators and random passers-by. She looks at the world and at organizations through the eyes of an anthropologist. Cultural anthropology is the discipline that asks what it means to be a human among humans in organizations and beyond. She is the founder of Human Dimensions, much sought-after speaker and author of Deep Democracy, Wow! What a Difference, Jam Cultures and co-author of The Corporate Tribe (2016 Management Book of the Year) and Building Tribes.

About us

HumanDimensions looks at companies and organizations through the eyes of an anthropologist. We look at how people shape cultures, and how cultures shape people. We travel the world looking for ways to build strong tribes, that are diversity-friendly and ready for change. And we bring our findings to the world of organization and cooperation through our excellent keynote speeches, master classes and training courses. Deep Democracy. Inclusion. Diversity. Organizational culture. Leadership.

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