Should Your Workplace Be “Like a Family”? How to Foster Healthy Working Relationships

Saying you’re a family isn’t really the problem; it’s saying you’re a family then acting the opposite way that creates tension.

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Saying you’re a family isn’t really the problem; it’s saying you’re a family then acting the opposite way that creates tension. So, what are you really saying?

Do you mean your team should share values, commitments, and a collective mentality? Good

Company Values

Families and organizations develop and hold each other to values in very different ways. More often than not, families shape each others’ values and beliefs — especially early in life. These values and beliefs evolve and change over time as individuals grow older, but the influence of family can still be strong. On the other hand, organizations work tirelessly to design, develop, communicate, and monitor values as a way to create cohesiveness among teams, departments, and individual contributors and to help drive an organization towards a shared vision of success.

  • As an organization, you also need to consider the unique, lived experiences of each employee, since, unlike a family, not everyone has spent their lives together! All parties should be interested in learning about how the company’s values are interpreted by each others’ lived experiences and what they look like in practice at work, in their roles.

Individual Roles

Contrarily, individual roles within a business have a greater variance; each role is rooted in the unique needs, services, and responsibilities of that position and that position only.

  • As an organization, roles need to be well-defined. While roles within personal relationships may be more fluid based on circumstance, organizational roles function best when they’re clearly structured and communicated. Otherwise, adding or changing duties can lead to task overload and employee frustration. For example, an administrative assistant might be able to (and even want to) draft company-wide HR emails, but making that part of their job responsibilities requires a different level of expectation-setting, communication, and accountability. Said another way: you’re not asking your sister for a favor, your company is paying an employee for their service, and that compensation should fairly reflect what that person is expected to do in their role.


As we’ve heard a thousand times before (and in nearly every context) communication is key. It’s how we set and keep boundaries, understand each other, and resolve conflicts. This is just as important in a workplace setting as a personal one and requires practice to stay effective.

  • As an organization, communicating efficiently in the office depends on transparency, but employees should be incredibly mindful of whether communication crossed the lines of personal boundaries. (Oftentimes these are expectations that can be set and shared early on in team formation so boundaries are respected later on.) Remember to use relevant and thoughtful language and active listening rather than probing questions. For example, if a team member states that they’re having trouble meeting a deadline, ask how you can best support them rather than why that is. (For more resources on development, ONE EIGHTY offers a variety of services to help you get started or recalibrated.)

Team Dynamics

Team morale and engagement are central to maintaining a psychologically safe and respectful environment both at work and in the home. Members of successful teams know that they can trust each other — and themselves — to honor their commitments and accomplish shared goals.

  • As an organization, an individual’s place on the team is not unconditional. And while that may sound harsh, remember it goes both ways! Everyone has a duty to make sure they’re serving the team and that it, in turn, serves them. If a job no longer serves you or your professional development, it’s okay to admit that to yourself and your boss. Similarly, it’s okay to end working relationships if and when the work has been put in and nothing has changed. (Exception: cases of racism, sexual harassment, or other HR violations, which should be reported to HR and/or leadership immediately.)

Leaders beware: Making anyone feel like they owe a company more than they’re being compensated for is the worst application of the “family” label.

Workplace Conflict Coach, Trainer, and Mediator. Owner of ONE EIGHTY. To learn more, visit

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