Most teams struggle because they don’t know whether they are a team or a family.
Often they’re an intriguing mixture of both.
After spending several years studying executive leadership teams, interviewing scores of executives and managers, analyzing thousands of data points, and writing hundreds of pages on the topic, I found that most working groups truly believe that they are a real team.
Yet most of these “teams” struggle because their leaders and members are not functioning as a real team.
There is ONE fundamental question that you must answer to be effective in your work…
The question is – Am I working with a team or a family?
You need to know
Before you accept that a new job. Before you take the leap with that new project. Before you stick out your neck for your colleagues and your organization. Before you quit your current job – you must be able to definitively answer that question.
If a leader’s intention is to develop a team within a family-style organizational culture, there will be significant hurdles with relationships and performance.
Mark Miller included a practical example when he wrote on this topic:
If you are a manager of a baseball team and your second baseman can’t catch ground balls you replace him. However, if rather than a team paradigm, you’ve chosen to embrace a family paradigm, you probably let the underperforming second baseman stay – not only does he stay on the team, he will likely stay on the field. You feel helpless to replace him because he’s part of the family.
Family trumps team
This week I was reminded of a conversation I had a few months ago with a leader of a large organization. We discussed a couple of areas within his organization that were in decline. He noted that the decline was primarily the result of underperforming leaders in these areas.
He acknowledged that the decline in these areas was also adversely affecting the organization and the leadership team as a whole. He had addressed the deficiencies with the leaders on numerous occasions.
I can’t just go in there and fire them, he said.
When I asked why he wasn’t holding them accountable, he thought for a moment then asked me, Would you like to go with me to sit down with their families and explain why I am firing their dad?
It was obvious – this leader and his organization operate from the perspective that team members are “family” members. As a result, he is more interested in supporting the family than developing a team. So the team will continue to underperform its potential.
What I’m not saying
Don’t misunderstand. Neither option – team or family – is inherently better (or worse) than the other. That’s not the point. And, regardless of the discomfort you are feeling in your current situation, it’s more important to know whether you are working with a team or a family than to try to change your team from one to the other.
Every leader (and team) leans one way or the other. And if you are going to serve your team and your organization most effectively, you must know if you are part of a team or a family.
Here are 10 simple questions (based on Mark’s article) to help you evaluate your team and your organization…
- Are people strategically selected for each role or are roles created for people to move into?
- Are team members encouraged to specialize in key areas or are their roles more generalized?
- Is competition normal or is it discouraged?
- Is conflict productive or is it is avoided?
- Are goals common or uncommon?
- Are expectations clear or often unspoken?
- Is feedback given freely or often withheld?
- Is performance primary or is it generally a non-issue?
- Is underperformance addressed or tolerated?
- Is measurement vital to the organization or is it absent?
The first part of each question is characteristic of a real team. So how does your group measure up – do you serve with a team or a family?
Wait a minute!
Some might say, You can’t have a team without genuine concern for the team members. After all, doesn’t every leader need to serve the team with patience, passion, and care?
Yes. In fact, I have observed these qualities in nearly every high-performing team. And these qualities become catalysts for higher levels of performance. They represent authentic team community.
So shouldn’t family be a part of every team culture?
No. Here’s why – being a family member is unconditional. Being a team member is conditional.
Mark’s recommendation is to treat your family like family and your team like a team.
Question: What is the primary culture of your organization – team or family? And how does it impact performance? Share your thoughts in the comments.