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A Tribe Called RBL

September 28, 2021

Team Culture
Tye DeGrange

Sebastian Junger’s Tribe was my favorite book of 2019. I read it in the summer of that year and when COVID hit months later, it proved prescient, highlighting the importance of community and human connection at a time when many of us dealt with peak pandemic fear and isolation. 

As Round Barn Labs (RBL) finishes 2021 strong, tribe is more important to us than ever.

Tribe: Key Takeaways

A number of factors have led to us being less connected as humans over the past 400+ years: the rise of the agrarian economy, creation of the nation-state, suburban life, technology access and dependence, remote work. COVID lockdowns certainly led to less human connection in 2020, and even now as we are faced with COVID variants. 

We are wired to belong and connect with fellow humans. This shared purpose and feelings of connection are not as prevalent as they used to be -- so much so that it is a mental health problem for a lot of us. Bringing back that community connection might be an important piece for many of us to ensure our psychological survival.

What Tribe means to me and RBL

Tribe touches on some of my favorite topics: history, psychology, and anthropology. It explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. 

It explains the irony that for many veterans as well as civilians -- war feels better than peace as a result of the camaraderie with fellow soldiers, how adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and why disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Tribe explains why we feel and are actually stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today's divided world.

Sometimes a crisis can bring us together. We saw this during COVID as well as in the natural disasters in the last few years such as the California wildfires, severe winter storms in Texas, flooding, and hurricanes in the South and Northeast. 

While work colleagues are not family, nor are any of us on the RBL team enduring natural disasters or are at war (fortunately), we have found a close connection with the folks that are attracted to RBL and vice versa.

Traits I have observed of past and current RBL successful teammates: 

- take great ownership of tasks and client work

- great communicators in verbal and written form

- naturally curious asking a lot of great questions

- always testing, learning, growing, and improving, getting better for themselves, the team, and for clients understand the value of customer service

- use data to get things done

- like to be part of a team and collaborate to get better together

During COVID in addition to grinding alongside each other during a busy time for e-commerce clients, RBL teammates conducted exercise challenges with each other on Peloton, discussed the merits of Tiger King, and attended Zoom happy hours and cooking classes. We saw external challenges as a way to bring our team together as best we could during difficult times.

In 2021 and beyond it is clear that we share a common bond, working together through shared challenges. As a boutique firm growing quickly, we aim to offer a higher-touch level of service and better expert-to-client ratios. Striving for these higher standards does not come without a cost, and as a result, we have dealt with operational challenges and team burnout. We know this is something that has become quite real with both agencies and internal teams being stretched to do more.

Over the course of 2021, it became clear that we needed a reset. We planned to meet in Chicago in August for our first in-person RBL offsite since February 2020.

We focused on processes, operational improvements, welcomed new teammates and outlined our goals and plans ahead.

Of course, we did the famous architecture tour by boat - highly recommended! During the tour, the guide shared the story of the Chicago fire of 1871. It's known as a ‘phoenix city’ that rebuilt itself bigger and better from the ashes.

While we were far from on fire or in ashes, the story of Chicago’s rebuilding resonated as a great example of Tribe and relevant to RBL. While we’re experiencing growth (doubling of the business each year for the past three years), we were operationally inefficient and were saying goodbye to strong practitioners moving onto new roles, and working to hire and onboard new team members. In short, despite and also as a result of our fast growth trajectory, we have more to improve and we will continue to rebuild stronger.

In addition to the tour of the Chicago skyline, the team gathered, presented learnings, mapped our revised core values, and developed a clear plan toward reaching revised goals, improved documentation, allocating more maker time, outlining remote work best practices, and welcoming new teammates. We also attended a show at Second City, ate deep dish pizza, and reset.

While we have had some great moments as a business, I do not think I felt as aligned or positive about our organization as I do today. We leave Chicago headed into the holiday season and 2022 stronger than ever. A team that is connected, aligned, and motivated.

I cannot help but think of Tribe and the idea that through hardship (even if it is not nearly as difficult as the great Chicago fire) comes connection and strength and something better.

In Tribe, Junger writes that “hardship can end up being a great blessing...humans don’t mind hardship, in fact, they thrive on it, what they mind is feeling unnecessary.” 

Our team is definitely necessary. For our clients and for each other.

Here is to the RBL tribe, your tribe, and our collective human tribe, and building something even better together! Explore our career opportunities if you’re interested in joining our tribe!

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