Teams can sometimes be like little family units. We see each other every day, spending as much time (or more) together than we do with our biological families. We watch each other grow, develop and achieve -- so we're there to celebrate the successes and comfort the defeats. Having a team that you can trust is one of the key reasons that people stay in a job!
But there's also a dysfunctional side to "family" that can creep into our workplaces. There's the family that's manipulative -- that gives "love" only in order to get something in return. There's the "love" that forgives but is also afraid to challenge; it values security over honesty, achievement, or real progress.
How can we build a close knit, positive team, without triggering the dysfunctional family dynamics that can suck the life out of it?
1. It starts at the top
When the "family" dynamic goes wrong, more often than not, the problem originates at the top. In healthy families the parents are responsible for getting their needs met. Ideally, they do this without placing their burdens on their children. Parents take care of kids, not the other way around.
The same is true in any organization, small businesses included. Leaders serve their teams, not the other way around. That doesn't mean that the leader should spend time doing menial tasks. It doesn't mean they shouldn't delegate work, either. It means that their personal needs are viewed separately from the needs of the organization. If a leader has a need to feel important, or valuable, effective -- or even liked-- then that leader finds a way to meet those needs outside of the office. Have you ever watched The Office? Michael Scott is an extreme example of a leader who uses his team to get all sorts of emotional needs met -- needs which have little to do with his business goals. It is always easier to see this dynamic from the outside. Leaders who have the courage to ask "What are my personal needs? How am I looking to my team to take care of them?" and be honest with themselves, will be doing themselves, and their team, a huge favor.
But wait, it gets even trickier. Your team members, just like children in any family, want you to like them; they want you to value them. And, just like children, if they perceive that you want to feel loved or that you want to feel important they are actually going to try to meet that need! They can't help it! But it is our job, as leaders, to make sure things don't go topsy turvy, and take action when they are. Team members who aren't being subtly, or overtly, asked to take care of the boss are free to take care of the business.
2. Care for people not productivity
The closeness that comes from a healthy family is built on a foundation of trust. We are more likely to trust people who care about us, as people, not as a means to productivity (or a means to meet our own personal needs). You can tell a company really gets this when they;
- Work with people to help them to succeed -- even if that means that they leave the organization.
- Keep in touch with past employees -- not as a way of luring them back -- but just because they want to hear about and celebrate their successes (wherever they may be).
- Think about the environment that supports the team's productivity and work to create that.
Close families have traditions of celebration. Holidays, birthdays, and rites of passage all get celebrated in families. We don't want to hijack those family rituals, instead we want to think about what holidays, or achievements need to be celebrated in the work place and create an authentic celebration of our own. I've seen businesses that celebrated Octoberfest, or the date of the company's founding (e.g. birthday), or chili cook-offs... What are the rituals that would feel at home to your team?
We don't want to "love" our team in a sloppy, lack of accountability, aren't-we -all-best-friends-sort-of-way. We don't want to try to take over the job that their actual family plays either. Instead we want to love our team in a way that celebrates successes, values them and supports their individual and professional growth.
How do you love your team?
About the author:
Brad Farris is a small business advisor and the brains behind EnMast.com, a small business owner community. He's a big NFL fan and lives in Chicago with his wife and 5 kids. Chat with him on Twitter and Google+.