CEO of Groundworks, the nation’s largest privately held foundation services company.
As Covid-19 continues to impact communities as well as businesses in real estate and other industries, it can be helpful to reconsider company dynamics. There have been numerous frameworks for how managers treat employees and how employees feel toward their employers and co-workers. More common frameworks include treating your company like a family or treating your company like a team.
However, it’s worth questioning if a blended approach to employee connections can help you achieve maximum effectiveness. At my company, we’ve developed our own model and in doing so, learned a lot about how different models can affect outcomes.
Pros And Cons Of Treating Employees Like A Family
A company that treats its employees like family is most commonly associated with a Main Street-style small business, including independent brokerages not under the umbrella of a larger real estate corporation.
Pros: These family businesses have a tight-knit team that has stayed with the company for a long time. Leaders, including brokers, support their team through changing circumstances. In turn, team members give a business their loyalty and commitment.
This feeling of a family business is not limited to small companies. It can be scaled up so that even with thousands of team members, employees feel like they’re doing more than punching a clock. It starts by establishing basic principles. A family atmosphere means employees feel connected to each other and to the goals of the company.
Harvard Business Review explains team members feeling a sense of belonging can boost job performance by 56% while lowering turnover risk by 50%. It postulates that in a 10,000-person company, a strong sense of belonging can bring annual savings of over $52 million. During the social distancing and remote work environments of Covid-19, this could mean businesses become more resilient when co-workers as well as managers maintain a supportive and connected work environment. The effects could ripple throughout a business, helping employees effectively support customers and potentially helping a company to survive a recession.
Cons: There are clear pitfalls to modeling a company too close to a family atmosphere. For example, families aren’t built through thoughtful hiring, job performance or merit. Employees could feel betrayed if someone from their work family is let go, despite their professional performance.
Further, family relationships can be casual and accountability-lax. These connections are typically framed around being supportive and tenure, rather than efficiency or effectiveness. This can be demotivating to top performers, especially when there are no consequences for below-average performance.
Pros And Cons Of Treating Employees Like A Team
Now let’s consider another model for business connectivity: treating your employees as a team.
Pros: Like a family, teams have the cohesion that helps your company grow and do great work. However, this environment encourages driven professionalism. A team will hustle to achieve goals and grow a company. The company doesn’t compare itself to an employee’s personal life. Instead, managers acknowledge that employees have families and lives outside of the workplace and are more likely to support work-life balance.
Especially as more people are working from home during the pandemic, a business that feels like a team avoids the blurred lines that can happen between a work family and an actual family.
Cons: With more people at home, there’s no longer the opportunity to physically leave an office. This physical delineation is something a fellow business leader points out as a sticking point — a block making it difficult to draw a line between family time and work time.
Certainly, teamwork is a hallmark of an effective workplace. However, a team’s effective collaboration doesn’t always mean employees thrive. In an environment that’s strictly team-based, business loyalty could suffer. Even in sports, players change team loyalty based on their contracts. Without a strong bond, communication may falter, and employees may be less willing to hash things out. In milder cases, this can lead to unspoken resentments, and in the worst case, this can lead to a toxic and ineffective work environment.
A Blended Approach
Rather than having to deal with the downsides of either strategy, successful companies are combining the two frameworks. At Groundworks, we treat our more than 2,000 employees like a tribe. A tribe is a group of people with a common culture. With this framework, we weave together the support of a family with the professionalism of a team based on a unified culture that is critical to the fabric of our company.
Our vision for our tribe was developed around a few very simple tenets: treating everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of position or rank, and embracing the mindset of meritocracy. These were inspired by four leadership principles defined in the book Extreme Ownership by U.S. Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. These leadership principles are further explored via the work of a third-party firm to develop a leadership strategy. With this framework combining the best of a family and team environment, employees rally around a unified vision. This fuels the active determination that pushes the company’s growth, the project’s goals and the employees’ individual development.
A tribe also creates a feeling of belonging without the pitfalls of trying to act like a family. There is a strong, unifying bond and a strong support system. As heard from an employee at one of our brands, this strong culture helps each person to do their best work.
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