I’ve been thinking and writing about teams a lot over the last few years. I’ve observed some great teams and many others who were struggling. The potential causes for underperformance are numerous. Recently I discovered a new one. Some teams struggle because the leader is not operating in a team paradigm.

When a leader is attempting to build a team, but he or she is operating on a family paradigm, performance will often suffer. Here’s an example…

If you are a manager of a baseball team and your second baseman can’t catch ground balls you replace him. However, if rather than a team paradigm, you’ve chosen to embrace a family paradigm, you probably let the underperforming second baseman stay – not only does he stay on the team, he will likely stay on the field. You feel helpless to replace him, because he’s part of the family.

I experienced this recently when a leader confided in me that a member of his team was underperforming and resisting coaching. I asked if the employee clearly understood the potential consequences if performance didn’t improve. I was told no. When I asked a few more questions, the leader revealed his belief that he couldn’t communicate potential consequences because the person was part of the “family.” He was not referring to blood family. In this brief exchange, I learned a lot about this leader’s orientation… He was NOT thinking team, he was thinking family. As a result, his team was underperforming.

Here’s a comparison of two ways to think about an organization…

      Team                                  Family

Performance is primary                              Performance is generally a non-issue

Expectations are clear                                 Expectations are often unspoken

Feedback is given freely                              Feedback is often withheld

Measurement is vital                                     Measurement is absent

Specialization is encouraged                     Generalists are the norm

People are selected for the role                Roles are often created for people

Conflict is productive                                   Conflict is avoided

Competition is normal                                 Competition is discouraged

Participation is conditional                       Membership is unconditional

Goals are common                                        Goals are uncommon

Certainly, none of these comparisons are intended to be absolute and in many cases, a continuum exists between these extremes. However, they do represent the stark differences in the two approaches.

Some of you are thinking this seems harsh; shouldn’t a team exhibit love, trust and comradery? Great question! I think all these positive attributes do exist in the best teams. Actually, they are prerequisites to high performance. I call this community. It is the turbocharger on team performance. But, it is not family.

Community is the belief that if we do life together, we’ll experience enhanced levels of trust and performance. Genuine community summons the best from each member of the team. However, unlike in a family, to be a member of the community is conditional.

My recommendation is to treat your family like family and your team like a team. You’ll win a lot more games if your second baseman can catch ground balls.[GLS_Shield]

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.