Management often likes to brag to the press and interviewees that their business operates “like a family”. Unfortunately, some project managers buy into this fairy tale and try to imbue this same family “culture” into their team, whether or not the team actually wants it. The results are often even more destructive than before they even tried it.

So why is wanting to operating like a tight, close-knit group such as a family such a bad thing?

1. It’s not for everybody

Many of us treasure our workplace relationships. We meet some great people there, some of whom become valuable companions and lifelong friends. But not everybody in the office is there to connect. Some are just there to work, and don’t care about starting friendships or developing bonds. They don’t care about “family culture”. In fact, it may even make them uncomfortable. Having it forced upon them actually alienates them more, even as others buy in to it.

2. It sounds (and is) pretentious

Just like the leader with an “open door policy” who doesn’t actually mean it, team members can smell insincerity a mile away. The more someone brags about “family culture” management, the less likely they are to actually follow it. Team members don’t buy empty words. They pay attention to how project managers actually speak, how well they listen, and whether they treat all employees fairly. Slapping someone with an unjust reprimand and labeling it “tough love” isn’t going to fool anyone. Neither are half-baked team building exercises.

3. The actual “family unit” is small

True family-style relationships develop over time between a core group of people which may or may not cover an entire team. They’re rarely announced as company policy, because such things are difficult to implement and ridiculous to enforce. Unless your company is small (maybe less than a dozen), it’s rare for the family-style intimacy to extend past a few key individuals. As a result, people outside this tight-knit group may feel excluded and ostracized. This may lead to resentment at not being part of the “in” crowd.

4. Not all families are good ones

Not all families get along. There are abusive relationships, broken families, and awkward pairings. Every single one of those is a “family relationship”—just not a healthy one. In labeling your company culture as a “family relationship”, you risk opening yourself up to ridicule from your employees, who know better than you where the warts are in your façade of familial integrity.

True family-style businesses are a rare and precious thing, and relationships like those can never be imposed or decided on as a matter of policy. It’s up to you, as a project manager and leader, to show the way by actually becoming a sincere, caring parent to your team. Once you’re able to do that, only then can you truly claim that your team is run “like a family.”

Image credit: Mikey G, Flickr

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