Get my latest blog post direct to your inbox every week!


Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

07970 638857


This Company Is One Big Happy Family

Oh yes? How's that working out for you?


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 24/05/2022 @ 8:00AM

When talking to company owners of small businesses a comment I often hear is, "We’re just one big happy family here!” Inside my head I always ask myself, “Whose family is that then?

This company is one big happy family! Oh yes? How's that working out for you?

This company is one big happy family! Oh yes? How's that working out for you?

copyright: oneinchpunch / 123rf

Of course, using the metaphor of 'family' to describe the culture of the organisation can and often does work out really well. However, it assumes that everyone has the same sense of what a happy family is and what their position in that family is.

"Let's look at some of the ways picking up 'family roles' in a business can cause more problems than it serves!"

At this point, I'd like to make it clear what comes below refers to the metaphorical 'one big happy family' and is not intended to mean actual family members running a business together. That's a whole different story,

Just a quick piece of theory on Transactional Analysis before getting into some examples of what happens in the interactions between the people in your business. These observations are taken as a simplified version of roles and ego-state explained in Transactional Analysis (TA). Taken from TA Today by Ian Stewart and Vann Joines.

They make the very sensible comment that oversimplifying their model is not helpful in a therapeutic sense, but here I'm using it just to suggest that you lose the family metaphor when thinking about your business.

So, in essence then. We learn how to behave in the different roles we undertake as adults from what we learned as children. As a child, we learn to adapt our behaviour to get what we want from our parents or others acting in a parent role. TA calls this the 'Adapted Child'. It takes two forms - we either become compliant and do what the adult says, or we rebel.

Think of a two-year-old throwing a tantrum in the supermarket. We also as a child act differently when left to our own devices, this is known as the 'Free Child'. Both have their positive and negative sides. Positively, we learn how to behave with others and be creative and negatively, we withdraw or rebel or feel unsafe and push the boundaries.

We also learn how to be the parent from observing how the authority figures interact with us and others to get what they want and we then add that to our repertoire on how to act with others.

So, if our experience of parent behaviour is strict and authoritarian or very laissez-faire then we act like that when in a parent role as an adult.

The important part to remember is that we take these roles into our adult life and our interactions are a kind of dance. One takes the lead as say the parent, and the other automatically picks up the child response which then re-enforces a parent response from the other.

Enough theory let's look at how this plays out in our interactions at work.

As soon as we say "we're a family" we consciously, or more likely unconsciously, pick up a parent or child role and behaviours and begin our dance with others.

The most obvious one is that as the boss you pick up the parent role. You're in charge and you will apply this according to your experience of how a parent should act. The trouble is, your staff will then pick up a child role. They will not act like your children though. They will act out their child behaviours that they learnt with their real parents. They will then expect you to behave like their parents which, of course, you won't. You'll behave like your parents.

Authority parent. This parent likes to be in control, gives the orders and expects obedience. Staff members whose own father or mother was like this will probably just obey. However, if one of their own parents overplayed the command and control they probably either rebelled, become over-complaint or withdraw. So, they will do that with you too.

Behaviours you might see will include skiving, lying, and undermining you with others. Alternatively, they will only do what you tell them to do, never volunteer ideas or take the initiative, always want to please, never disagree or tell you when they can't do something. They withdraw by either leaving or more usually taking a lot of sick leave for stress.

If their own parents were more laissez-faire, they are likely to feel intimidated and interpret you as harsh, overbearing and may even accuse you of bullying. Once again their reaction is to either rebel or withdraw, only more so.

More on the very indulgent/laissez-faire parent. I've heard it called 'Marshmallowing'. Children often feel very unsafe in these circumstances and can interpret it as uncaring. They look for the boundaries, and the limits and will keep pushing until they find them so that they get noticed and looked after and feel safe.

So, guess what response you get from your staff? Kids running riot, only doing what they feel like doing, not taking responsibility, turning up late, giving back cheek, messing around, not following proper procedures and they come running to you with every slight complaint. Sibling rivalry may emerge with a constant set of what appear to be trivial disputes between team members. They will expect you to take their side and may accuse you of favouritism if you don't.

The new daughter-in-law syndrome. Even in these family-style teams where relationships are good, introducing new members can suddenly de-stabilise the team. What's their role in the family? They may play by different rules. It means everyone has to shift over a bit, and wonder if they are the new favourite? Established family members who feel threatened will work very hard to oust the intruder.

Another change occurs when the boss (you) brings in another layer of management. Suddenly you become the grandparent. What do lots of grandparents do? They spoil their grandchildren. Many feel their new manager isn't bringing their kids up properly. Many a leader in small companies actually undermine their own managers as they struggle to switch to the grandparent role. Once again it is likely to mirror their own family experience.

I haven't even answered the question, "If you're Dad then who is Mum?" What does that mean to everyone? What about the staff who have no experience of the dynamics of two parents or whose parents split up? The ways this dance gets played out is endless.

"So, my tip this week is this: Don't get up to dance!"

You're not a family therapist. Why get caught up in this type of tangle when there is another way? Lose the family metaphor from your business. Your relationships with others in the business is not family.

It is a business relationship based on a formal contract your staff perform certain tasks and in return you pay them. Interact with your staff on an adult to adult basis to create a responsible and empowered workforce.

So, how do you act 'adult to adult'? A good way to work on this is to look at how you talk and act with your business peers. Think of your best supplier, customer or business colleagues, your friends or fellow club members. The ones you consider your equals, who you can trust and can rely on.

  • How would you ask them to do something?

  • What would you say if they screwed up?

  • What are your expectations of their behaviours towards you?

  • How do you behave towards them?

Being children together can be valuable especially when you want creativity. You can build this into your repertoire. Think about how you behave with your friends when you're playing. Try it with your staff and they may surprise you; they will certainly get a surprise if that's the first time you've done it.

Beware some children don't want to grow up and may react childishly trying to get you to continue your parent role. So, you may want to take it slowly step by step. There are a lot more ways that the parent/child dynamic can play out in business both positively and negatively.

Equally, it's not the only reason your team may be playing up. If you're having problems managing an individual relationship at work or team seek some help to sort it out.

Then you can be one big happy organisation.

Until next time ...



Would you like to know more?

If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more about that one big happy family (or not) in your business, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857. Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help.

Share the blog love ...

Google AMP  /  Précis  

Share this to FacebookShare this to TwitterShare this to LinkedInShare this to PinterestShare this via Buffer

#TheConsultantsConsultant #Northampton #MiltonKeynes #UK