Org Development: The Roman Way

If one were to explore outstanding examples of organizational development, team-building, or leadership, Rome probably would not come to mind. Perhaps it should. Granted, there are plenty of things that the Romans did wrong. However, there are plenty of things that the Romans did right. Roman tactics regarding organizational development, team building, and leadership are three great examples of things they did exceptionally well.

Let us examine the Roman way of organizational development for a moment. It is never a bad idea to look back and learn from the victories and mistakes of others. Team building and leadership are no exception. So, let’s start by echoing the words of Henry Porter, who wrote, “for when a man doth to Rome come, he must do as there is done.

The Romans were around for roughly 1000 years, first as a Republic and then as a world-dominating Empire. That Empire has now been gone for over 1500 years. However, isn’t it amazing how we can still look to Rome for ideas after so many years?

One thing that makes powerful nations and organizations great is when workers or followers feel they are part of something greater than themselves. Followers work substantially harder when they feel that. However, this feeling is sometimes hard to instill or achieve. Nevertheless, tactics to achieve this feeling have been successfully used by those who have understood how to do it for many years. These tactics were used to significant effect as Rome began to overtake Carthage as the global power, and these tactics helped solidify Rome’s influence throughout Europe. Even today, nations and organizations that understand this process are powerhouses.

To achieve this cohesion, the Romans did something the Carthaginians did not. The Romans focused on several essential elements of organization and team-building. Today, if we take a moment to learn, we can use these tactics to unify our organizations and nations and help them become stronger. I call this method Reasoned Development.

The secrets of effective organizational development have been known for years. However, Reasoned Development can work a little too well for the likes of some leaders. Simplistically, this method centers around four basic concepts: symbolism, common cause, belonging, and assimilation.


Carthage was a powerhouse; of that, there is no denying. However, Carthage (in many ways) relied solely on the symbolism of their power to bring their people together. Translated to business or a modern setting, this would be like your organization or nation relying solely on your logo or flag to inspire your teams to greatness. As you can imagine, while powerful, it is usually just not enough.

Not unlike Carthage, Romans ensured that their symbolism was constant and plastered everywhere throughout the Empire. Much thought was given to these symbols. These symbols were so powerful that, to this very day, we can still recognize some of them as Roman.

The lesson here is that your symbolism is essential, and much attention must be given to its generation and distribution. It must be a potent symbol of the organization or state. Also, ensure that everyone in the organization has “swag.” Such swag could include t-shirts, mugs, bags, portfolios, pens, or anything you can hold down long enough to put your symbols on. This tactic fosters the beneficial elements of uniformity. Bonus points to organizations that allow for unique presentations of their symbolism.

A warning must be mentioned: You should not allow a particular leader to become the center of attention. Remember, leaders, come and go. A simple examination of history will demonstrate that when a leader becomes the dominant symbol, that organization or nation will usually crumble as soon as they are gone or as soon as they mess up to any significant degree.

The Common Cause

When people think of Rome, images of wealth, games, gladiators, and debauchery come to mind. The truth is that these were not common for the entire duration of the Empire. While such images could be a cautionary tale of prolonged and unchecked power, the truth is that much of this came out of the abundance they acquired. Consider this both a clue and a warning.

Rome gave the citizenry a purpose and a common cause to achieve abundance. Essentially, Rome’s leaders were great at delivering the citizenry a vision of the future – IF the nation worked together to achieve it. As a result, their military expansion drove economic development. The vision was solidified by acquiring resources from conquered states and ensuring that costs were kept as low as possible for both government and citizens. Keeping prices low and wages high ensured citizens a higher standard of living and abundance. Note here that the citizenry was taken care of. The lesson here is that we must care for our people and improve their living standards.

Another point here is that everyone worked together to ensure abundance and glory. They could do this because they were provided a vision of what that glory might look like, and thanks to their leaders, they knew exactly how to get it. In other words, everyone knew what they were working for, and everyone was on the same page about how to get it. When victory was had, it was a Roman victory. When loot was acquired, citizens benefited. This tactic created a level of motivation seemingly unmatched by any other nation.

Imagine an organization that fostered a culture where everyone worked together to conquer a specific market. Imagine having a common cause where everyone understood what was on the table and what they stood to gain by achieving victory. Imagine that by conquering that market, the entire organization could reap the benefits through a better standard of living and perhaps even abundance. Would your organization be motivated to win by using such tactics? Would your organization find innovative ways to achieve victory? Of course, they would.

Give your people the vision. Vision provides a common cause. Together, and with the advice provided thus far, your organization would be a powerhouse.

The Sense of Belonging

In 1850, Sam Houston proclaimed: “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln said something very similar. There is much truth to that. In fact, some point to Constantine the Great as a big reason for the fall of Rome. First, in 306-337 C.E., Constantine divided the Roman Empire in two. Then, in 410 C.E., the Visigoths breached Rome’s walls, and the Roman Empire was essentially finished. Would the destruction of Rome have happened had Rome not been divided? We may never know. However, we can definitely learn from it.

In our country today, many neighbors do not know each other. As such, neighbors have become suspicious and rarely help one another out. Neighbors fight over political differences and rarely leave their home’s comforts to engage in conversation with the strangers living across the street. In many ways, loyalty to their state, city, and neighborhoods is gone.

In many families, coming together for dinner is no longer a thing. Instead, families are becoming divided, and family culture is nothing more than something the older generations had. As a result, loyalty to the family also seems to be going away. So what can we learn from this?

Is there a correlation between how divided we have become and the previous two points? Perhaps. However, this societal shift is having an impact on organizations as well. Leaders must be aware of this and navigate accordingly. For example, many departments are divided, and many within the company view their participation as nothing more than a job or only something that pays the bills. As a result, loyalty to the company and commitment to the worker is now rare.

For a great many years, Romans were a family. The people would go to the bathhouse together, battle, eat, and seek entertainment together. They did most things as a community. The result was that Romans had a shared sense of responsibility for the nation and each other. Once this was lost, the Empire began to crumble.

Today, we call the process of coming together and developing a sense of family team-building or “proximity.” Your people need a shared sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. However, this requires the organization to be open, transparent, and loyal to the workers. Achieving this atmosphere requires gathering time, community events and resources, and a genuine interest in the worker’s well-being. Some organizations are phenomenal at this. Others have much work to do. The lesson here is that you must foster a strong sense of community and family to operate as one.


Rome did something that many nation-states and organizations no longer do. Rome went out of their way to ensure that every Roman in the Roman Empire felt like a Roman first. It was not about individual efforts. Sure, there were heroes to rally around, but the glory was always to Rome.

This mentality extended to the nations they conquered. Rome largely achieved their great power by providing some form of citizenship to many of the people it conquered. But, of course, these people had a choice. They could assimilate into Roman ways, gain Roman citizenship, and gain the Roman perks, or resist and either become a slave or die. It was a pretty sweet deal for those who chose to assimilate. With that citizenship came many of the benefits of being a Roman.

However, it did not have to be a total assimilation. Conquered people could retain their Gods and even many of their customs. However, the catch was that those Gods and traditions were celebrated in the name of Rome. This flexibility ensured that no matter what was done or practiced, and as long as doing so did not violate Rome’s rules, Rome remained the centerpiece of everything.

As a testament to our Founders’ genius, the United States once required a similar thing for many years. To become an American citizen, you were required to assimilate and reject foreign loyalties. To become a citizen, one would have to adopt our Constitutional values and live by that law. Immigrants could retain their Gods and customs, but the Constitution was the centerpiece. The result was an astounding gain in national strength, which continued until the Constitution was no longer the central focus. And now, here we are.

Putting It Together

I have often pondered why organizations and nations do not use these tactics more often. I suspect it is either because leaders are unaware of these tactics or because the glory would be given to the organizational vision, not the leader. That can be pretty hard for some leaders to swallow. However, in this age of “self,” these tactics could provide organizations with a strategic advantage if appropriately deployed. Therefore, I recommend considering your nation, organization, or department as your Empire. Understand that how you lead this Empire will result in either its success or utter failure.

Your organization needs a strong symbol to rally around. Everyone in the organization should be inundated with organizational “swag.” Of course, the symbol must mean more than any one person, and the leadership must truly believe in their symbolism.

Organizations should also establish and focus on an organizational vision. Sometimes this is the vision statement, but a clear vision of the organization’s purpose is fundamental. From there, that vision should be a focal point to ensure everyone knows what they are working towards. If you have multiple departments, departmental vision statements aligning with the organization’s vision statement are also necessary. Visions and common direction ensure that even when our people fall, they will fall forward.

If an organization wants extrinsically and intrinsically motivated teams, organizations must ensure that the workers are a big part of an organizational victory. This can happen in many ways, but leaders should consider it the spoils of war—this helps to establish loyalty and motivation to succeed in the leadership’s vision. More importantly, it makes everyone hungry for the next opportunity. Remember that the motivations related to carrots and sticks are temporary.

Moreover, organizations need to create a family or team environment where leaders of the organization are looking out for their people just as much as they expect their people to be fighting it out for the organization. How would you like to be treated if you were sick, pregnant, or falling on hard times? How would you like to be treated if you worked hard on a project and the organization reaped substantial rewards but left you hanging? Act accordingly.

Doing the right thing is crucial, but team building is essential. Get your people together and get together with your people. Create the community you need. Allow your people the opportunity to love each other and appreciate the differences and strengths that each one brings to the table. Doing so helps establish a more robust network of people who CAN work together by utilizing each person’s strengths. Remember that the key is that everyone shared the organizational vision. Leaders must ensure that workers are devoted to that vision to make this work.

Finally, organizations should ensure that workers assimilate into the organizational culture. This requires the organization to hire correctly from the start. New hires must adopt the new culture and reject the old. Once they have begun that process, we must ensure that those who assimilate are exposed to each of the previous steps. I call this part “saturation.”

No doubt, it can be a challenge to get started. However, once realized, not only will your Empire grow in size and strength, but most of your people will also die fighting to ensure its survival and success. Frankly, I am not sure you can put a price on that.