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When was the last time you referred to your team member as a family? When was the last time you fiercely argued with your team only to wake up and completely forget the reason? When was the last time you really wanted someone in your team to succeed more than you? When was the last time you sacrificed a promotion for the team? Read this blog on why your team is not your family.

If you cannot recall any of the abovementioned instances you may not have really thought of your team like family. And, that is okay. Turns out neither does renowned organisation psychologist, Wharton professor and author, Adam Grant.

How did the family analogy come to being?

During the industrial era of the 1950s, it was important for employers to create a sense of belonging and loyalty among employees. Further in the times of Henry Ford (known as the chief developer of the assembly line and mass production technique) where cheap labour was required for mass production, selling the family theory worked and employees even served in the same organisation all their lives. The family theory was so inspiring, that their next in kin also joined the same factory. Truth is, we do not work in factories today. Neither do we stay in a single job for life, and sadly, we have no idea or control over how our next kin will fare. The world is changing too fast.

Hence, the family analogy for teams does not work anymore. Here is why:

  • Most people today prefer being individual contributors.
  • People change jobs and careers pretty fast.
  • Instead of loyalty, people join and stay for the learning and money!
  • Careers of today are not linear.
  • While you cannot choose your family, you can definitely choose your boss and the team you want to work with. 
  • Finally, in a remote/ hybrid environment, you are not even working with the entire organisation, only a few people that are a core part of your work ecosystem, hence the larger connect is missing. 

So, if not a family, then what?

With the ongoing pandemic, which can also be termed as ‘the great purge’, we have seen norms being shattered. Freedom and flexibility of work are important goals employees seek and it is also the cause of ‘The Great Resignation’. Older concepts of culture, camaraderie, and cooperation have taken a backseat and what remains is a transactional facade. Hence, in view of the above, here is how leaders can build their teams and move on from the idea of why your team is not your family.

As Communities: Think of a company as a community. They are a group of people building together and rallying behind a common cause. The leader is crucial here. Everyone emulates their actions. Referring to the givers and takers in the Adam Grant philosophy, Avinash Raghava, currently building Together, a Founder-led VC and founding volunteer of SaaSBOOMi says, ‘if founders come from a giving mentality, they build like-minded people around them.’ He further continues, ‘givers form great communities that care and people stand by each other and they stand up for a greater cause. In a company setting, if Founders are givers, they will create that culture in the organisation, since everyone will follow their example.’

What is the ‘givers and takers’ philosophy?

In this McKinsey article, Adam Grant writes, in giver cultures, employees operate as the high-performing intelligence units do: helping others, sharing knowledge, offering mentoring, and making connections without expecting anything in return. Meanwhile, in taker cultures, the norm is to get as much as possible from others while contributing less in return. 

Most organisations fall somewhere in the middle. These are “matcher cultures,” where the norm is for employees to help those who help them, maintaining an equal balance of giving and take.

As beehives or heterogeneous units: If you have noticed the way we work in hybrid and remote environments, you will see a pattern. We work in clusters and only interact with those in our clusters. Our boss, our team and maybe clients too. But, our interactions with other teams are extremely limited. In such an environment, a homogeneous culture is hard to attain.

Says Vikas Dua HR Head, IPG DXTRA, "the closest analogy to how teams work today is the beehive. Each is a self-sustaining unit with their cells joined at the border and the focal point or queen bee being the Founder/ CEO. The overall level of bonding in teams is lesser and that makes the task of the HR team daunting. However, it is important we continue to bring the organisation together through events and town halls. The more we build intersections, the better, but the future of teams definitely looks heterogeneous.”

If one is to research beehives, they are said to be the best collaborators where every bee has its role earmarked. It is due to their earmarked roles that they work in synchronicity, despite the hierarchy (and a beehive is more hierarchical than a typical corporate set-up)!

As sports teams: We have moved from an era of hiring based only on the resume to hiring for a culture-role-fit. Earlier, candidates were expected to fit in and now we want people to stand out. Therefore, culture must keep up too. Unlike a family, sports teams come together for a unified purpose with a known goal. Everyone in the team is well-aligned to that goal and any other activity is considered a digression. Because of the common, shared goal, team members have an immediate bond because they’re all working towards the same thing/ winning. There is the camaraderie and a sense of belonging that is centered around the goal. Many team structures today are built towards common goals.

Adds Deepthi Bopaiah, CEO at GoSports Foundation and ex-Wealth Management Vice President at HSBC, “sport is about the pursuit of excellence and trusting the process. If you observe Olympians,  they start training at least 12 years prior to the Olympic Games they are targeting, and every day they have a single-minded focus on their goal until they finally make it.” She further adds, “Taking the example of Olympians, what makes them so incredible and inspiring is their ability to push human limits and go the extra mile, enjoying each day as they work towards achieving their goals.” Therefore, corporate teams and sports teams have the following in common: strategising, targets/ goals, rankings /appraisals, chasing the process, and the pursuit of excellence.

As tribes: If you have read Seth Godins’ book on Tribes, leading a movement, you already know what we are talking about. A tribe is a group that outlasts the leader - their motivator is the way they are aligned with each other and the way it feels to be a part of the ‘movement’. 

Here is how Seth explains Tribes in his blog.

‘Tribal leaders are in a hurry, a race to connect and inspire. Tribal leaders dig deep to be seen, sure, but mostly to see. To see what the group believes and fears, and to help them get to where they hope to go.The realization that the tribe is already there, just waiting for you to contribute, is energizing. And the fact is that while we get the benefit of the doubt—that the tribe is open to hearing from you—they’re not yours.’

Seth Godin

“We call ourselves the Chargebee tribe and that really works for us,” says Madhumita Mani, People Success Partner at Chargebee. “Our founders and leaders are hands-on and speak to the entire company every week - we have a mission-driven culture and our core values include curiosity, bias to action, customer centricity, and empathy. We understand that the team has come together for a purpose and we believe it is this that binds our tribe together.”

Finally, what overlaps in all the structures mentioned above is a unified purpose/ mission, the role of the leader/ founder, and the process itself. A team (by whatever name you call it) is well defined if the above criteria are met and it is the clarity of purpose that makes each player a critical piece of the puzzle. Hence, for CHROs or founders who are culture drivers within the organisation, we want to say this: one size does not fit all anymore as every team is highly nuanced, so culture will have to follow suit.

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