Subscribe to the DTBG Weekly BlogSubscribe Now

Embracing Maori Wisdom to help enhance your organizational culture.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Owen Eastwood for The Excellence in Training Academy. Owen is a performance coach with a particular focus around building team culture and leading that culture. Owen grew up in New Zealand and now lives in the UK. There are three concepts he shared from his Maori ancestors that I believe are critical to building a culture of belonging.


This is a spiritual idea from the Maori people that each of us is part of an unbreakable chain of people going back to our first ancestor, with whom our arms are interlinked. This chain of people is not only back to our first ancestor; we are part of a chain of people into the future to the end of time. He explains that the metaphor they use is that the sun first shone on our genesis story, our ancestors, the first version of this team, this nation, this school, this organization, whatever it is, and they are family. The sun has slowly moved down this chain of people from our first ancestor.  The sun keeps moving and whatever you achieve while the sun is shining on you is your legacy. The sun keeps moving down the chain of people giving us an incredible sense of belonging. What is critical in our tribe is that they pass on to us our sense of identity, a sense of purpose, a vision of what we are trying to do together and our values, rituals and traditions. That is why we are an unbreakable tribe.

Tapu and Noa

Tapu basically translates as sacred, prescribed and non-negotiable. Noa is the freedom to express. The key is to strive to create a culture where there is a balance between Tapu and Noa. This is a balance between Tapu – what is sacred, which becomes your boundaries, and within those boundaries there is plenty of Noa. This means there is plenty of opportunity for people to express themselves, go off and learn, be vulnerable, take risks and make mistakes.

The concept of Whakapapa, is very similar to the New Zealand All Blacks concept of Be a Good Ancestor that I wrote about two weeks ago. A culture where there is a balance of Tapu and Noa is one where there is psychological safety. These three philosophies also reinforce the concept of “It’s the people, it’s the people, it’s the people.” from the Maori proverb “He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.” I wrote about in last week’s post.

There is a great deal of wisdom passed down through generations in many cultures which we can draw on to help build a culture of leading, learning, inclusion and belonging in your team, work group or organization. Seek out that wisdom and strive to find ways to weave it into your organizational culture.

Note: Owen Eastwood’s book Belonging: The Ancient Code of Togetherness will be released on May 27. I highly recommending pre-ordering it now as I believe it will be a classic for leaders who want to enhance their culture.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey. The Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop was created for aspiring leaders and frontline leaders to help you on your leadership journey.

Brian Willis