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Cédric Spalvieri
Cédric Spalvieri

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The Tribe effect in the tech industry

This post was originally published in french on my blog

Man is by nature a social animal — Aristotle

As human beings, we are driven by a need to belong to a community. This need is so important that there are specialists in a field called Tribal psychology (mainly studied regarding our behavior about politics).

Studies in this field had shown that our need to belong is unconscious and systematic. It can be triggered by any way to differentiate two groups of people, may it be as trivial as over- or under-estimating the number of dots on a page. When people are told that the are over-estimators (may it be true or not) they immediately act in opposition to under-estimators.

In our line of work, this group segmentation can be seen between production teams vs. support teams, designers vs. developers or, more recently, backend developers vs. frontend developers.

Squirtles high five

Fortunately, in most companies, the pseudo-antagonism between these tribes is not a major issue, and it’s often “just” a little humor.

But making fun of socio-professional traits is not that innocent. Studies have shown that once this tribe feeling is set in our mind, it can trick us into seeing the same truth, the same facts, in two different ways, depending whether we belong to a tribe or another. If it’s true for a proven truth, you can imagine how tribe conflicts can escalate when they are about intangible facts (should we talk about mobile OS preferences?).

What’s even worse is that our need to prove the superiority of our community is so real that we are able to accept a bad situation for our group if it’s means that the opposite group will know an even worse situation. This is true even if there is a third situation, a good one, that both group could benefit on the same level.

As irrational as it seems, that's the way we are. We are likely to shoot ourselves in the foot if it can show that our group is more valuable than another.

Ursula's thought on choices

The first way to limit the impact of this bias in our work environment is to be aware of it, and to try to identify it within our behavior and the behavior of others.This can seem easy and obvious but it’s not. We easily behave in a way that divide groups, sometime just for fun, without any intent to harm.

It’s also important to create an environment that reduces group formation by encouraging diversity and mixing groups in a physical and/or a timely way (try to avoid having “the sales team office”, “the Chicago guys”, or the “our R&D team”).

My last piece of advice is more general, but be kind to others, and try to walk in their shoes when interacting with them.

Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection - Dan M. Kahan
Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination (1970) - Henri Tajfel
Image credit:
Claude Charbonneau - Checkmate
© The Pokémon Company International
© Disney

Top comments (12)

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

This is something I think about a lot in our choice to segment this website. It's called DEV, but we're constantly trying to figure out what that means in the healthiest, most inclusive way. Without being so broad that the content trends towards the mean of general "tech" or even broader.

Really nice post.

skwi profile image
Cédric Spalvieri

Thank you !

Communities like are IMO a good way to have an impact on the different groups that revolves around development and make them blend with each others.

Seeing the concerns and struggles of others is the best way to walk in their shoes.

This requires being careful of respect between these groups but so far you seem to manage it quite well 👍

Keep up the good work !

mortoray profile image
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

I'd say is for developers: anybody involved in the development of software. This necessarily includes the programmers, administrators, graphic artics, community managers, and virtually anybody inside a software company.

Consider these example topics, would they belong here?

  • How I revamped our API docs to reduce support questions
  • Using the Git-Plugin I rebuilt our Photoshop workflow directly through GitHub
  • The challenge of a sales guy selling technical development tools
  • HR's ingenious solution to making our remote devs feel like part of the team
stefandorresteijn profile image
Stefan Dorresteijn

I think tribalism is one of the largest issues facing the world today. It definitely reaches into software development as well, which is why setting aside your ego is one of the most important steps to take in becoming a more dynamic programmer and person.

davidisrawi profile image
David Israwi

Very interesting! The first example that came to my mind when reading your article was our preference for Javascript libraries, lol.

In your opinion, how can we remove or alleviate the cons of this type of behavior once it is already established in an environment (e.g. workspace, college,...)?

skwi profile image
Cédric Spalvieri

Trick question.

First of all, I think this is a job done best from someone outside of the established groups. Any one belonging to a group would too easily be dismissed by the other group.

I see 2 key actions than can have a positive impact :

  • mix group individuals in order to make people understand the view of others
  • try to discourage segmenting behavior, may it be just for fun.

If your already part of a group, the good news is you are aware of it, so you can try to identify in your own behavior how you act in a segmenting way, and adjust it, leading by the example.

There is no silver bullet, but trying to understand people's feeling is a good start.

nicetomeeta profile image
Meeta - 개발자포트폴리오

I've recognized the "Tribe Effect" for a long time, but I couldn't have behaved without "Tribe Feeling" so far. Your post reminds me it again and warn me not to behave with "Tribe Feeling".

If u don’t mind I’d like to translate ur post in Korean and post it on my blog(

By the way, thx for nice post!! ;)

skwi profile image
Cédric Spalvieri

Thanks ! I don't mind at all, I'll be flattered.

If you can please link back to either this post or the original one I wrote in french (on

rhymes profile image

Being kind is definitely one of the must of life in general :-)

Well written!

So... tabs or spaces :D ?

skwi profile image
Cédric Spalvieri

Thanks for your comment, but now I terribly regret not having thought of the tab and space strife :D

mortoray profile image
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

The divisions that develop between teams hurts development significantly. It's what I talk about in my presenation on "The Key to UX is collaboration".

neerajs29318246 profile image
Neeraj Sharma

Hi Cedric,
Nicely written post. Pretty informative!

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