Have you ever heard a company say “we treat our employees like family“? I used to think it was a good thing. After all, we typically associate good things with the word “family”. Things like unconditional love. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Safety. Comfort. There are many articles written on why companies should treat employees like family.
But now I think they got it backwards. You don’t treat your employees like family to build better teams. Instead, you apply some of the same principles both in family and in organizations to achieve excellence and loyalty in teamwork.
I think a better analogy would be “treat your employees as players on a sports team” because it captures the essence of the team building principles.
Principle #1: Don’t get comfortable
The point of being a part of the family is that you will be accepted no matter what. Your family is your safety net. You can fail, you can be lazy, you can be at your worst – and yet the family will forgive and accept. The very safety and comfort of the family environment fosters complacency and content. It’s not a good driver for innovation and team excellence.
Instead, tell your people you expect them to step out of their comfort zone, push their own limits and believe they can be bigger and better than even they themselves realize. Only by challenging yourself and those around you the team can achieve greatness.
Principle #2: Don’t tolerate mediocrity
As harsh as it may sound, a great team does not tolerate bad performers. If one player is continuously failing it affects the entire team in a profound way. It not only lowers the chances of winning, but also breeds resentment, low morale, lack of pride and distrust in leadership. It can very quickly destroy the team from within.
When you tell your people you will treat them as a family, you set a certain expectation on how you will deal with bad performers. And that expectation is that bad performance is acceptable. After all, you can’t fire your grandmother.
Note that I am not talking about someone making a few mistakes here. Making mistakes means they are trying something new – it’s a good thing. I am talking about a consistent and continuous failure in one or more areas of team performance (cultural, moral, technical, etc). I am talking about the kind of failure that cannot or would not be corrected by coaching or by adjusting the responsibilities and the role of the individual (read: my understanding of success).
If you embrace this principle, everyone on the team can be sure of their own value, can maintain high self-respect and respect for their teammates as well as the leadership. Moreover, they can maintain a sense of pride of belonging to this team.
Principle #3: Demand open and honest communication
Sometimes your wife puts too much salt in your meal but you eat it anyway so you don’t upset her. Sometimes you tell your husband that he’s an excellent handyman to make him feel good even though that faucet has been leaking for over two months now.
While this kind of communication sometimes works in a family environment, it’s toxic in a team. If you don’t have an open and (sometimes painfully) honest communication your team misses out on chances to improve. Therefore it’s of the essence to foster the team’s ability to give and receive feedback openly (but respectfully). They must put egos aside for the good of the team. Which brings me to the next principle…
Principle #4: Put the team first
This is the only principle that I feel ties well with the family analogy (people tend to put family first).
This is also the most important principle of building excellent teams. In great teams individuals put their own interests aside and focus on team’s goals instead. They have each other’s backs. They leave no one behind, even at personal disadvantage.
Even though this goes against our immediate instinct to self-preserve and is difficult to achieve with consistency, any team that has this mindset is destined for greatness. All other principles become easy and follow effortlessly if you put the team first.
If you’ve successfully applied these principles, you will have a highly efficient, engaged, loyal team that has a great sense of pride and belonging. A team like this can achieve greatness.
It doesn’t matter whether this team is built within the framework of a business, sport, army or family. The principles, I think, are the same.