Family communication lessons

IMGP8686Sarah Browning shares some lessons from communicating with family
Many of us take the opportunity to spend time with our loved ones over the summer, as did I. This got me thinking – the notion of family is something that is sometimes talked about within organisations. Leaders in particular can be fond of saying “We’re all one big happy family here!” 
Sometimes I hear that said and it doesn’t quite ring true, as if someone on high has decreed that this is what should be said and everyone else has to toe the party line. Sometimes it can sound a bit scary, a bit cult-like – in these circumstances, my reaction is that I have a family, thank you, and I like to spend time with them away from my workplace. I don’t need colleagues to replace the family I already have.
But the organisations that get this right take the good bits of being part of a family and apply that to the working world. For this to work, I believe that actions and words must match and feel genuine, authentic, real.
So how do you create an organisational culture that feels like a family, without being too cheesy or insincere? Here are a few things I think you need to consider:
  • Shared purpose – at successful organisations, everyone understands the business strategy and vision and what they are there to do. Take time to help everyone in your organisation understand the bigger purpose and their own contribution to it.
  • Connections and shared history – there will always be times when individuals bicker or have different opinions, but by and large, people are people and like to feel part of something and connected to others. These connections build up stories and shared experiences, which can be shared with new people who join the group. Use opportunities to tell stories of what happens in your organisation and cement those connections in people’s heads.
  • Language and meaning – the words that people choose to use can create a shared understanding of something. Find the right words to describe the work that your organisation does and the environment you work in and apply those words to everything from team names and meeting room signs, to project reports and marketing leaflets.
  • Recognising the whole person – we all have things we’re good at, things we’re not so good at. We all have interests outside the group, whether that be our home-life, our hobbies, other friends. In a family, we put up with all sorts of ‘funny little ways’ from family members; successful organisations recognise and celebrate the whole person. Colleagues chat to each other about all the things that they are interested in, not just work topics – this makes individuals feel valued and recognised.
I’m sure there are lots of things about families that organisations wouldn’t want to recreate, but there are plenty of positives too.