The need to develop an intellectual edge based on empowerment, innovative thinking and strategic acumen is recognised as integral to success in many organisations, including Defence. Despite this acknowledgement, research shows limited improvement in the development of innovative behaviour within organisations. While past research has examined how individual newcomers are socialised and inducted into organisations, relatively few studies have examined career-long socialisation practices and its effect on tribal behaviour. This case study examines the socialisation practices in use within three distinct Air Force "tribes":

  • "Operator" type (pilots/ fighter pilots)
  • "Engineer" type
  • "Executive" type (Senior Leadership)

Examining tangible artefacts of organisational culture revealed distinct differences in empowerment between the tribes. They were characterised by:

  • the ability to be seen,
  • the ability to be heard, and
  • levels of trust and cohesion between tribal members.

In-depth interviews with 30 tribal members revealed differences between espoused values which led to a comparison of socialisation tactics and patterns of organisational boundary movement used by each tribe. The repeated practice of specific socialisation tactics such as sudden death ‘tournaments’ revealed unintended consequences of elitist behaviour and a tendency towards conformity based on the need to belong to empowered tribes. This excessive use of high stakes socialisation practices emphasised the already intrinsic need for belonging and inclusion. It also negated some of the benefits of the intrinsic motivation for mastery and related innovative behaviour. Notably, the high stakes tournament tactic inhibited organisational development of divergent thinking and behaviour due to levels of empowerment between tribes. Regardless of socialisation tactics used in other tribes, the lack of empowerment resulted in conformity due to the inability to exploit innovative thinking of less empowered groups.

The findings of this study suggest that the motivation for empowerment through tribal inclusion is an important consideration in the development of organisational behaviour. Rather than wholesale approaches, the effects of tribal tactics and resultant competing motivations must be considered carefully.