Are You Leading a Team or a Family?

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]

Leave a comment



Timothy Lynn Burchfield

7 years ago

Great insight Mark.

Lance

7 years ago

Mark, great points! The distinction provides a lot of clarity, especially when coupled with the concept of community and the room for grace that exists even on high performing teams.

mark

7 years ago

Lance, I believe the Team/Family conversation is one that could serve many businesses and non-profit organizations. Community makes the team strong, but not at the expense of skills. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

Lorenzo

7 years ago

I’m the executive pastor a church and we had to learn this the hard way. Desiring to be very relational as a staff, we had been using the family analogy. Predictable problems ensued.
We were able to shift and bring clarity by changing our language. We have clarified that you’re family if you’re part of our church, but our staff is a TEAM made up of family members.
Not only does this frame how we relate to one another on staff but it also conveys expectations and communicates that even if someone is no longer on staff it has no bearing on their standing as part of our church family.

mark

7 years ago

Lorenzo, thanks for your comments! More non-profit organizations need the maturity your response demonstrates… many for-profit leaders could also benefit from you wise counsel. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

Timothy Stewart

7 years ago

This is a great article. How does an organization like a church, who enlists volunteers to be in the teams navigate these waters? I totally understand the concept with employees, but in your experience with volunteers, do the same rules apply? We are trying to move from family to team, and we are experiencing pushback. I was just talking about the transition from family to team yesterday, so I really appreciate this article.

mark

7 years ago

Timothy, I feel your pain. I’ve done what you’re asking in a volunteer setting – it’s hard! However, it is possible. I’ve had to release volunteers who “couldn’t catch ground balls.” The work of your church is too important to let poor performing volunteers continue. The stakes are too high. If a second baseman can’t catch a ground ball, the team may lose the game. When churches fail to perform, eternity hangs in the balance. I hold volunteers to much higher standards than those I create in the marketplace. Stay the course! Mark

Jayne Heggen

7 years ago

Terrific reminder. Can’t tell how many business environments I’ve been in where the motto is “we’re like a family”! Although well intended, it’s just wrong and ends up being hurtful, if not harmful in the end. Thanks for a great post

mark

7 years ago

Jayne, thanks for taking time to comment. Enjoy the journey! Mark

Greg Crooks

7 years ago

Mark – what a great challenging post, especially serving on a church staff like we do. Discussing at our team retreat this wknd. Thanks for all you do!

mark

7 years ago

Thanks, Greg! Please let me know how the retreat goes. Mark

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[…] Miller of Great Leaders Serve shares his provocative post Are You Leading a Team or a Family?   The post presents a comparison of two ways to think about an organization and explains the […]

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[…] Are You Leading a Family or a Team? – I see growing evidence one of the primary culprits impeding the effectiveness of many leaders is confusion on this simple issue. The principles of effective team leadership are fundamentally different those required to lead a family well. When you get these confused, your team will be a perennial underachiever. […]

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[…] Are You Leading a Family or a Team? – I see growing evidence one of the primary culprits impeding the effectiveness of many leaders is confusion on this simple issue. The principles of effective team leadership are fundamentally different those required to lead a family well. When you get these confused, your team will be a perennial underachiever. […]

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