Why Family Is Bad For Business

What descriptor do you use to describe the people who work in your organisation? Employees, workers, staff, group, team, family? Or do you stick with the literal, neutral term and call them – people?


The term that is most dangerous to use is family, and not because of its alliterative relation, happy. When an organisation talks about its people as a family it thinks its doing the right thing, focusing on being inclusive and supportive through demonstrating a collective set of cultural norms. We think it’s an incorrect metaphor for two reasons:

  • Family membership (by blood) is never a choice and family membership by marriage can be fraught with difficulties. You cannot appoint family members, nor can you withdraw family status. Trying saying to a sibling we cannot afford you must leave the family, never to return. Or explaining how the families changing vision means a particular family members’ skills are now ‘non-core’
  • The other reason is one of hierarchy. One of the pleasures of being in a functional family is everybody knows their place. Who is in charge, where we all go for Christmas, who makes key decisions etc. That’s why the opposite of a functional family is so awful; when families fight for position, try to usurp someone’s position, not make allowances for a tradition that has become the norm. This kind of ritualised behaviour in organisations can be really dangerous.

Here is a word to try on your organisation. Describe the people as a community. A high-functioning organisation will be effective in delivering the three dimensions of community:

  • Place – This is likely to be physical space(s), and certainly will be different virtual spaces (email, phones, web etc)
  • Interests – People who engage in similar work with similar skills and expertise. People who work with the same customers and get passionate about the same products and who want to achieve similar standards of excellence.
  • Belonging – Shared corporate values a common vision and some close personal relationships.

Membership of this community is highly conditional. There are standards of performance and behaviour that are non- negotiable, people are allowed in but it takes a while for them to become fully accepted. The community will fight to support someone who remains true to the community ethos but will expel people who let the community down.

How credible would you sound in describing (in an organisational-wide session) that we are a community?