Thursday, October 17, 2013

Team Or Family?

Lately I have been pondering a challenge that many of us in the human services field face: how can you create an organizational environment that allows the organization to thrive where many of the jobs are difficult (mentally and physically) and competitive wages are a challenge?

My ponderings have led me to research what other organizations in this situation have done, and two main philosophies seem to have emerged.

One philosophy is to view the organization as a family, and employees as family members. This philosophy has many positive attributes. When employees feel they are part of a work “family,” they establish family-like relationships where family members care for one another. This is important and in smaller settings can produce results. They may feel protected by the organization and exhibit a strong sense of trust in the organization.

But I think there is one major drawback to having an organization be like a family. In a family, love is unconditional. You are going to love your son or daughter even when he or she crashes your car on the way to school, hosts a party at your house when you are away for the weekend, or drops out of college after two years to play drums in a heavy metal band. In organizational terms, that unconditional love can mean that lesser performers are kept on board, and on the payroll, just because they are family. Family embraces what is available and accepts the status quo. Family members are not traded. There is much less accountability for poor performers. This of course begs the question, what happens to high performers? What does the future hold for them when it is a collective agreement for them to carry the load? Where does their motivation take them?

For much of its 50-year history, I think Imagine! has been a family-like organization. And we’ve had amazing successes under that philosophy. However, I think it has lately been transitioning into something else, and I think it is a healthy and necessary transition. Changes in our system and funding shortfalls have demanded that we must be more accountable than ever before for our performance.

I would argue that we are becoming less like a family and more like the second organizational philosophy I came across in my research – a team culture.

Like a family, a team creates a sense of mutual obligation, and inspires teammates to support, protect, and trust each other toward an end. However, a team is much more focused on performance. There is not a sense of unconditional love. Great performances in years past don’t necessarily mean that current poor performances are tolerated. Success is quantified and measured, and there are standards to meet. If a teammate can’t meet those standards, support is offered, but only to a certain point.

We have made team-like adjustments at Imagine! that are less reflective of a family and more reflective of a team, such as establishing processes to measure and track performance, providing support for struggling performers, and recognizing all star performances. I don’t mind admitting that some of these changes have been met with a look of uncertainty, but I firmly believe that this transition to a team-oriented culture is vital for our organization. I think it creates an environment at Imagine! where employees can thrive, our organization can thrive, and most importantly, the individuals we serve can thrive.

Then again, what do I know?

No comments:

Post a Comment