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Your company is not your family

And that’s a good thing.

It looks like a family, though, doesn’t it? You probably spend more time at work than with your relatives. You celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, victories and defeats. You care for each other.

And yet, saying that a company is your “family” sounds weird to me. And it is poisonous to some extent. Yes, we say so to express the intention of being honest, kind, and supportive of each other.

But do we have to pretend to be a family to achieve that? (spoiler: no, we don’t)

Not every community needs to be your family. Our family is our first community, but it’s just one.

A company should help you improve your life-outside-work, not replace it. It should provide you with the mechanisms to have a great personal life, no matter what.

But the family mindset within a company could be at odds with these goals. If you have two families, you need to please both, and avoid betraying them — This kind of emotional investment isn’t something you should look for.

One of the main differences between a company and a family is that, in general, you cannot quit from it, or choose its members (yes, yes, yes, I know, “yes, but”… bear with me!). You also don’t need to share common goals with your family — they are family after all.

Well, actually. The main difference is that you don’t get paid to be part of a family. Unless your father/brother/uncle/son is the King and you live in the 19th century (oh, wait). But whatever.

OK, a company is not my family. What is it, then?

A company is a team. Usually, a group of teams. And there’s a lot of things to share with teammates.

In a team, people share goals, values, organization, strategy, and understanding. People can expect some sort of alignment between your personal goals and the direction and vision of the team.

You might call it a tribe — it’s a cohesive group of people.

From an anthropological point of view (and I read half an entry from the Wikipedia about it so you can call me an expert), a tribe is a group of people with a shared ancestral identity. I’m not so sure about the ancestral part, but the “shared identity and vision” part kind of sounds like the “shared goals” idea outlined above.

And this is enough. And great.

Call it a tribe, call it a clan, call it a team. My point is that family is a different thing, with different implications.

So, whenever you hear “here at we are family”, ask this to yourself. Are they talking about the good parts of a family? Or are they pursuing the kind of commitment you would expect from it?