Should your co-workers feel like family?
During a recent talk with the entire Inclusion System team, I spoke from the heart about how thankful I am for the caring way in which the team treats each other, our customers and, well, me. I also went on about how close I felt to everyone – how they felt like a family to me. Afterward I reflected on what I had said. I don’t like workplace clichés much and I wondered if I had used one myself. Are we really like a family? I have strong positive emotions towards everyone, but are we family? I concluded that we’re not. The family analogy is not appropriate in the workplace.
Most of us put our family first in our lives. Do I want people to put their work ahead of their real families? No, of course not.
Ideally family members accept each other unconditionally. At work, we only accept people who share the organization’s values and who have strengths in areas where we need them. We choose our teams. We don’t choose our families.
Often, families don’t communicate too well across the full spectrum of issues or plan the future very well. Is this okay for us at work? Nope.
Families are for life. Can you run an effective organization that delivers value to the people it serves when people are guaranteed a place for life? No way.
So if we are not a family, why do members of our team – and teams in other great organizations – feel so close? What is the right parallel?
I think the parallel is close friendship. Close friends are honest with each other (communication); choose one another (selection); play different roles planning the girls’ night out (using strengths); and they support one another with personal issues just like great team members do at work. Good friends help us learn and grow and give us self-worth and a vital sense of connection. Friendships sometimes end when circumstances change, like when someone no longer sees the value of the relationship or when people simply move away.
For me, being on a great work team is a lot more like being friends than family, in all the ways described above. The difference being that rather than sitting around sipping wine or dipping a fishing line in the water, we are working together to create something of value and providing for our families in the process. Perhaps that is why we end up feeling so close to many of our co-workers. We are friends and we are doing something really important together.
Next time I will say: “you all feel like close friends to me”. That feels right.
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