At Work, It's a "Team," Not a "Family"

By Kevin Sullivan

A number of years ago the head of human resources for a large corporate client told me he was opposed to referring to the employees as “family,” as had been the custom there. In a corporate setting, he explained, difficult decisions are inevitable and at times, people are going to leave for one reason or another.  If everyone has been told they are part of a family, there is a real sense of “betrayal” in those moments. 

Ever since that conversation, I have cringed when I hear an executive talk about family in the context of corporate culture.  Family is personal and the workplace is professional. Blurring these lines can adversely affect productivity and even profitability. 

I was reminded of this point while listening to the new season of the Land of the Giants podcast, which is focused on Netflix.  In the high-performance culture that pervades Netflix, co-founder Reed Hastings emphasizes that Netflix is a “team,” not a family.

In the team analogy, players are replaced when someone who can better help the group achieve its goals becomes available.  

Those who refer to employees as family are most likely aiming for a personal bond, a feeling of loyalty to the company.  Instead, leaders should set out to build trust with employees through consistent, open communication and upholding commitments - particularly as it relates to the goals of the enterprise and how each employee can contribute to the company’s success.  

In that context, personnel decisions can be viewed with less emotion and a sharper focus on achieving clearly established objectives that serve the entire company and its stakeholders.