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Is Company Your Family?

Often you may have heard the term ‘family’ in your professional context, as part of a welcome message, in get-togethers, or in a pep talk from your manager, or some similar context. But is a company your family? Is that correct thinking and interpretation? Read on.

I often wondered this daunting question because some companies I know well often advertised this. Some even added this in their hiring message, while I knew it’s nowhere close to counting it as a family from people working there. But why do people still use the term company is your family and is that the proper term? The short answer is NO. The company is NOT your family. Sure, you may have a great culture, and your team may be friendly enough to its company as you would with your family members. But it is still the wrong terminology to refer to a company or team or any professional organization structure as your family.

You may be wondering why this is the case, and a place where you spend 9-12 hours a day and five days a week, shouldn’t it be a ‘family-like’ place? It’s tempting to think that way, for sure. Now, let’s take a step back and feel a specific family context. You have people from different age groups (like your parents, spouse, kids, grandparents, probably, if you are lucky). Each has undefined and unwritten duties and expectations from the rest of the family. Some family members may throw tantrums at will, and others will learn to accept that. The family comes as a mixed bag of emotions, and again you know to accept it, if not immediately, then over time. Now try putting family context to the professional team context, and let’s see how well it holds up. Will you be okay if your colleague suddenly demands something in return, he won’t do their job, and you are on a tight schedule? If the answer is no, then why not? They are no different from your tantrum-throwing kid who won’t do his homework unless he gets something.

Similarly, if you suddenly expect everyone to do your job, the only thing you would get is a disappointment. In a family, emotions flow freely, while you must follow social boundaries on a professional front. You can’t scold your colleague, boss, or mentee just because you are angry with him. So, family convention falls off quickly in a professional context. Managing your emotions in a professional context is your responsibility (Emotional quotient or EQ is a big thing!).

Okay, so if not family, then what is the best convention to follow for a professional context? Also, does it mean we should not show empathy to anyone on the team? No. Showing compassion and helping others succeed is inherent in human nature and a professional setting is no exception to it. But it should not be at the expense of your career! Everyone is responsible for their career and assigned professional work. I would like to borrow the example of a professional sports team from Reed Hastings’ ‘No rules, rules’ book. It’s very apt and meets all criteria. In a sports team, only select players earn their right to play the game, and they get that based on their performance and skills. Each player has a duty and responsibility. Like in the game of cricket, those responsibilities include specific fielding areas, batting, wicket-keeping, umpiring, or bowling. Each player, including the captain, is replaceable if one is not doing the assigned job right. Additionally, players can be replaced or swapped for duties if one is found to be doing better in specific skills or areas (In the world of cricket, we often see batsmen changing batting order). Ultimately, the team’s goal is to win, and the team can’t achieve it even if one player doesn’t do their job well, so it is a team game. Players will also get training, and it’s the responsibility of the trainer or coach. Similarly, it is the employer’s responsibility (or your manager’s) to act as a coach in the professional context. If you throw tantrums, you are out of the team. It’s as simple as that. Also, players do bond and care for each other. They will often cover each other’s back and show empathy, which also fits any professional team context. So, the example of a professional sports team for any other working professional team aptly suits.

Next time you hear or see someone say or write family for your company or team, explain why they are incorrect. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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