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Company culture: Why you shouldn’t refer to your team as a ‘family’


Family dynamics should stay at home. Workplaces should instead focus on setting clear boundaries and ensuring that everyone is recognised and rewarded for their efforts.

5th May 2023
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When it comes to creating a positive workplace culture, companies strive to foster a sense of unity and belonging among their employees. Whilst this is certainly a worthy goal to strive for, many make the mistake of referring to their workplace and the culture as a ‘family’. As a leadership and culture expert, this is always a red flag for me and I strongly discourage business and HR leaders from either making or striving for this comparison. 

Let’s unpack the top five reasons why you shouldn’t refer to your workplace as a family.

1. Lack of psychological safety

Families generally tend to lack psychological safety, which is a critical component of any healthy workplace culture. Psychological safety means that employees can speak up, share their opinions and ideas, disagree with colleagues or their boss, and take risks without fear of negative consequences such as retaliation or ostracism. This is essential for fostering creativity, innovation, and collaboration among team members. Families, however, may not always provide this level of psychological safety.

Families often have deeply ingrained cultural norms and traditions that can be difficult to challenge or change.

In a family setting, there are often power dynamics, emotional baggage, and unspoken expectations that can lead to tension and conflict. Family members may feel pressure to conform to certain norms or beliefs, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them. In contrast, a workplace that emphasizes psychological safety creates an environment where individuals can express their unique perspectives and ideas without fear of judgment or retribution.

2. Lack of goals and performance metrics

Families don’t have goals and performance metrics upon which their very survival depends. Another important aspect of a healthy workplace culture is a clear sense of purpose and direction. Employees need to understand why their team and organisation exists, what they are working towards and how their individual efforts contribute to the overall goals of the organisation. This is not something that is a requirement within a family.

While families may have some shared goals or values, they are typically not focused on achieving specific outcomes or meeting performance metrics. In a workplace, however, it’s essential to have clear goals and metrics in place to measure progress and ensure that everyone is working towards the same objectives. Without this clarity, employees may feel aimless or disconnected from the larger mission of the organisation.

3. Challenges with diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are increasingly important considerations for companies looking to build a strong and successful culture that values innovation and creativity. When employees feel valued and respected for their unique backgrounds and perspectives, they are more likely to feel engaged and committed to their work. Families may not always prioritise diversity and inclusion in the same way.

Creating a thriving workplace culture is an ongoing process that requires commitment and a lot of hard work.

Families often have deeply ingrained cultural norms and traditions that can be difficult to challenge or change. This can lead to a lack of acceptance or understanding of people who come from different backgrounds or hold different beliefs. In contrast, a workplace that prioritises diversity and inclusion can benefit from a wide range of perspectives and ideas, leading to greater innovation and creativity.

4. Lack of growth and development

One of the key drivers of employee engagement and satisfaction, is the opportunity for growth and development. When employees feel like they are learning new skills, taking on new challenges, and advancing their careers, they are more likely to feel fulfilled and invested in their work. In contrast, families don’t exactly prioritise or encourage personal or professional growth and development. In fact, in many families, anyone who strives for betterment may be ridiculed and accused of ‘forgetting where they came from’ or ‘thinking they are better than us’; see that lack of psychological safety at play again?

In a family setting, opportunities for individuals to take on new roles or responsibilities, or to pursue their own personal and professional goals are few. In contrast, a workplace that values growth and development can provide employees with the tools, resources, and support they need to advance their careers and achieve their full potential.

5. Prioritising behaviour and accountability

Families generally don’t prioritise behaviour, performance and accountability the way that employers would. In a family setting, there may be a tendency to overlook or excuse poor performance or behavior, or to prioritise personal relationships over objective criteria.

In contrast, a workplace values positive behaviours, high performance and accountability sets clear boundaries for what is expected of employees and holds them to high standards. This helps to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals and that individual contributions are recognised and rewarded based on merit.

Creating a thriving workplace culture is an ongoing process that requires commitment and a lot of hard work. Employees care about purpose, goals, growth opportunities, remuneration and feeling appreciated and being recognised for their unique contributions. That’s why they have jobs and why they choose to work for one employer over another. For everything else – both the good and the dysfunctional – we all have families. We don’t need to replicate family dynamics at work. 

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Stephen W. Walker
By stephen1949
09th May 2023 09:07

So families lack psychological safety, have no goals and no challenges to do with diversity? I don't see that at all.
While the workplace has clear boundaries, high performance expectations and accountability, which families lack.
Isn't that the definition of a toxic work culture? Aren't people allowed an off day, to make a mistake, to learn?
The workplace needs Transformational Leadership not this 19th Century Command and Control 'Leader Worship'!

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