Being a team, or being a family? Why I strive to make the groups I lead be both

Han-Shen (Han) Yuan
Feb 15 · 4 min read

Netflix, where I once worked, remains for me the gold standard for corporate cultures. Like others who joined Netflix, the siren song of their manifesto on the culture at Netflix lured me. The company’s culture deck presents two models of corporate cohesion — the team and the family — and explains why it strives to be the former:

We model ourselves on being a team, not a family. A family is about unconditional love, despite your siblings’ unusual behavior. A dream team is about pushing yourself to be the best teammate you can be, caring intensely about your teammates, and knowing that you may not be on the team forever.

At the time, this idea made perfect sense to me. Building an organization modeled on unconditional loyalty, like a family, seemed like a way of artificially handicapping the company’s future, because one of the unfortunate side effects of a company’s success is that the people who had a role in helping a company succeed are not always the ones who can help the company scale to the next stage.

I do believe that people in an organization need to be managed like teams without unconditional loyalty, because my experience at Netflix helped me understand what that meant. But running your organization like a team should not come at the expense of treating your colleagues like family. Of course, the Netflix culture manifesto doesn’t forbid treating your colleagues like family — in fact, the culture deck says it is essential to care about your teammates. But I’ve come to believe that focusing on achieving and maintaining this duality offers the best of all worlds. Let me give you three reasons why treating colleagues like family while managing them as a team is important to me:

1. Treating people like family fosters an environment of trust, a key quality of highly functioning teams

In 2015, the folks at Google released the results of their extensive two-year study on high performing teams. They discovered that top-performing teams all had one thing in common: trust. Treating your colleagues like family, with all of the empathy and care that entails, fosters trust. Google’s report goes on to explain the benefits of trust:

On the flip side, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles. And it affects pretty much every important dimension we look at for employees. Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.

2. The person you let go today may be the perfect person to join your team when you have your next job

Your current team may have too many point guards and too few centers, requiring you to cut some good players because they don’t meet your needs today. But your next team may well benefit from those point guards. By treating colleagues like family members by, for example, mentoring them in a nurturing way even through the dismissal process, you maintain connections with colleagues you may well want to work with again.

3. How you make people feel has a bigger impact on your legacy than what business decisions you make

Maya Angelou once said:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Colleagues on the cusp of the next phase of their career will remember more about how much you showed care and concern for them than what advice you offered. People you must terminate will remember how you treated them. Thoughtfully delivering the message and offering real resources to help people make a fresh start is the best way for all involved to move forward.

On the other hand, if you treat people poorly, nobody will remember how brilliant your management skills were or what you accomplished professionally. They’ll only remember how badly you made them feel.

Competing to win as a team, knowing that your colleagues have your back just as if they were family, benefits your current team, your next team, and your legacy.

Never tell me the odds! Han runs Post-PC Labs, LLC with a band of freelancers. If you enjoyed this article you can subscribe to his regular musings here: https://h6y3.substack.com


Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

Han-Shen (Han) Yuan

Written by

My name is Han Yuan, I’ve been in the software industry for over 20 years, and I’m here to write about the ride now that I’ve logged a few miles.

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