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We Are Family - The Power of Family Values in Teams

Can people you work with really feel like family? Is it even important that they do? In Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code (The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups) he spent four years researching eight of the world’s most successful groups including Google, Disney and the Navy Seals, from which he established three skills that a team needs to be truly successful - Build Safety, Share Vulnerability and Establish Purpose. I am going to focus specifically on the idea that relationships in effective groups are described by people inside highly successful groups not just as friends, team or tribe, but family.

Recently I was working with a team who wished to build a culture of collaboration in a multi location team pulled together from several very different original groups. The teams were operating in silos as is natural (not sure the last time I saw people just up and change their well established ways of working that they had spent years building just because the org chart changed) and so, naturally, leadership and people within the teams were keen to break down those silos (I prefer dissolve but hey ho). I am so accustomed to, and focused on, drawing the link between seeking productivity/better performance and team behaviours that I started off down that route but quickly pulled up sharp when I realised this leader was looking for something more human. He just plain saw the link between keeping good people happy, creating a place where people would really enjoy working and creating a sense of connected family with precise clarity.

He knew that by connecting people to each other we could build a strong bond which would be the most powerful and beneficial thing he could do for his team. It was a beautiful moment and allowed us to create a truly human, heart centred, highly effective approach.

I think we still view companies that talk about family with scepticism, we are so focused on outputs and outcomes and task. I have definitely come to realise that (while we do move on for the sake of our careers and for other good reasons sometimes) that sense of family bond that is created within a team at a given time creates the greatest work synergy and flow.

Being a family company can also sometimes be blamed for backwards thinking, like it’s some kind of legacy disease, but there are abundant stories of family owned companies (Walmart, Ford, Dell) that have strived to keep that sense of family bond while working towards the future and looking outward to be better. For the people who have grown up in those companies and for people coming in from a smaller company with a family feel that they valued, that can be a killer mix. If you try and forge a new path of shiny, corporate excellence and dismiss or lose that sense of knowing each other and closeness, you run the risk of losing the networks that made you successful in the first place and can sustain you through the transformation period and into the future.

So what does it feel like to work in a team or culture based on family and why is it so good? Three things - you feel safe and that you belong, you can be vulnerable and you know your purpose and connect with your story.

To feel safe and that you belong - people respond to belonging cues, tiny micro behaviours that connect the brain (yes it’s science, this is not BS) and heart in turn strongly to the group it is in. As Coyle writes, “Belonging cues are behaviors that create safe connection in groups. They include, among others, proximity, eye contact, energy, qmimicry, turn taking, attention, body language, vocal pitch, consistency of emphasis, and whether everyone talks to everyone else in the group.” What is this - an evidence based list of small day to day actions anyone can take to make significant change to their team’s way of working?! Listen up people - this is gold dust!!

To be vulnerable - this is so powerful and I give thanks to Brene Brown and Amy Edmondson here for their extensive, amazingly valuable research and writing to help us all strip it back and open up in the name of doing great work (which is really the basis of what most people want to achieve). Being vulnerable with each other builds the sense of safety in a team to be able to speak up about brilliant, risky ideas, fears and doubts about a course of action or flagging failures and errors at no personal risk so it is early enough for the team to resolve and change tactic for the better. It is created at first by a leader saying I am scared, I don’t know, ca