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It’s not uncommon to hear people refer to their work colleagues as family, particularly in a small business. Leaders consider their team part of the family and I think now more than ever people are very much looking for a place to belong in this frantic world. However, is your team really a family in the true sense of the word? You might find you strike a bit of trouble if you do believe that.

I totally understand the intent behind calling those who you work closely with a family. After all, you do spend a lot of time together, you support each other and you want to enjoy the time together. You want to foster a place of belonging and camaraderie right? However, what happens when a member of the ‘family’ starts to take advantage of others, is underperforming or negatively impacting the culture past the point of repair? Do you terminate that member of the family?

It’s Unconditional
In a family, you can’t fire your children (though I know some have tried!). You can’t sit little Johnny down and explain that his standard of making his bed is below par and he will have to lift his game or he’s out. You can’t explain to Sarah her obsessive talking is too distracting so you’ve decided to let her go. It just doesn’t work that way. A family in the true sense of the work is accepting of each unconditionally.  And that is not how a team can function.

Do you want to be accepting of your team members unconditionally, no matter what they do? Whilst we may like to think we do and that is all about being inclusive, this is completely unrealistic and doesn’t make any commercial sense.

Team or Family?
Netflix is heralded for its incredible culture and teamwork. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix famously states in a presentation about his company’s culture:

“We are a team, not a family. We’re like a pro sports team, not a kid’s recreational team. Netflix leaders hire, develop and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position.”
Very wise words.

My background is corporate and in my experience, we were never encouraged to call our team a family. We were encouraged to be a high performing team, a high functioning team, but never a family. We were bound together by the values, processes, and policies of the business. We were recruited for skills and attitude and contributed in line with expectations. That was what I was used to.

So I found it incredibly foreign and very curious when I began to experience small business referring to their team as family. It just never made sense to me! And still doesn’t. I have witnessed the stress this mindset has on leaders when it comes to crunch time and a member of the family has to go for the benefit of the business and themselves. It sends shock waves through the team and is incredibly distracting because how could our leader terminate a member of the family? If they can do it to that person, what will they do to me? It creates a huge culture of fear rather than understanding the dynamic of the team and the deeper values and expectations this team is bound by.

You Have a Team
In the working world, you have a team that should be recruited because they align with your purpose, culture, and values, they bring a certain skill set and attitude that your business needs and requires to fulfill a function. These people should understand the boundaries and frameworks they operate in and understand the deeper principles that bind the culture and the team together. The expectations should be the same of all your team and the rewards and consequences dispensed accordingly. No favourites played, no blind eyes turned. Just fair and equitable team play where everyone wins. And a much less stressful environment for all.


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