No we're not a family, this is work bb! Leadership advice to create a healthy culture that isn't "like a family".

Your work isn't your family - rewire your team's culture

thought leadership Feb 15, 2023


This is a major leadership red flag for me whenever I hear leaders say "we're like a family" because it tells me there are potential cultural issues for that leader and their team. Let's look at why familial culture doesn't belong at work - and what you can do instead!


"Family Values" = ambiguous and disempowering!

Family means different things to different people, so when you label your culture "like a family" it's not only ambiguous, but also brings in some dangerous power dynamics that is NOT the vibe we want. Joshua A Luna clarifies this really nicely when he says "If you’re promoting a family culture, does that make the employer the parents and the employees the children? Not everyone has a good relationship with their parents or siblings and emotions from family dynamics can easily bleed into professional relationships."

Not only are you encouraging potentially harmful power dynamics, but you're also not being very clear about what you mean when you describe the culture as a family - does that mean you all fight about politics on the Holidays? Do you love each other unconditionally? Do you drop everything and rush to help each other no matter the time of day? You can see how problematic some of these questions are for a professional environment right? Everyone defines a family differently, and rather than encouraging such a broad, varied description of your culture, why not take the opportunity to set an engaging, clear and aspirational culture.

👉 Do this instead: Clearly define the values of your culture. Instead of saying ‘we’re a family’ - clearly talk about your culture at work, use a mission statement and team/business values. That way you can roll in elements of family that you like e.g. respect, empathy, kindness etc without the overwhelming blurred lines and weird power dynamics.


You're paid to be there.

This is a transactional relationship. You’re being paid for your time, your talent and your results. That’s not a typical family value, we're not paid to be someones sister or aunt or cousin. In families we tend build relationships and give without expectation of receiving, or with a much more lenient view of give/take. We don’t want to build a culture where our business takes from our people without giving back what they deserve, and we don’t want our team to think that they are expected to give over and above out of "love", because that leads to burnout, unclear roles and responsibilities and impacts performance negatively.

👉 Do this instead: Make sure your team all have clear roles and responsibilities by using job descriptions and having KPI goals assigned to people and departments. Talk openly about expectations of overtime, and always respect your team if they cannot provide additional support or time. Be flexible as well, if you need your team to knuckle down and pull a long night, give them a late start the next day or a day off next week. Keep the relationship fair and balanced.


Your people deserve to have a personal life.

When you blur the lines between family and work, it encourages your team to blur their boundaries. Do they feel like they have to share more about their personal life than they want to because 'it's a family'? Perhaps they feel like they can't say no, or advocate for their personal time because in a family environment, we all just roll our sleeves up and help as needed. 

Because the lines are blurred between personal and professional, it's also been proven that people are more likely to participate in and allow unethical acts because it's all in the name of "the family". 

👉 Do this instead: Support your people to have life/work balance. Ask them specifically what their boundaries are, for example is there a time they have promised to themselves they want to leave work by? Share your own expectations around boundaries as well, for example you don't expect your team to blindly say yes to you, you'd rather have constructive conversations around deadlines, workflow and make sure that as a team you're prioritising the right things and giving everyone enough time to do their best work. Respect your people's private lives, don't ask them questions that are intensely private and don't overshare yourself. Allow people to do their best work AT WORK, and then leave and have a beautiful personal life away from you. 


Define your team's culture with profiling and a culture map.

  • Profiling is when your people complete an assessment that then provides you with rich insights on who they are as a person, and information around their behaviours, communication styles and areas of growth.
  • Culture Mapping is when your whole team (including you ofc) has completed a profiling tool, and then all your profiles are layered together by an expert - to provide you with a view on how all your styles work together (or clash too oops). This gives you the opportunity to discuss the current vs. desired culture with data behind the discussion, and create a collaborative plan as a team to build the culture that you want.

Email me at [email protected] to chat about your options and let's start profiling your team and building your culture map together.

VB x


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