Team Environment vs. Family Environment in the Workplace


The Culture Counts blog is a discussion of law firm culture and legal innovation, including topics such as effective leadership, employee engagement, workplace culture, ideal work environment, company core values, and workplace productivity.  

In building and sustaining a healthy workplace culture, it’s necessary to ask the question, “are we a team here, or are we a family?” A team has a common goal. The needs and positions of the team may vary, but the end result is to win. This means that teammates build up their fellow comrades, celebrate their successes, and encourage them when they’ve had a down moment. They come together to bond and unite for the greater outcome. At times, this may mean picking up the extra slack or offering to assist in an area outside of your “job description.” We do this willingly, because we know that when we put in the time, the team shares in the fruits of the labor, and that the commitment to that common goal benefits everyone.

Often times you hear businesses say, “We’re a family here.” Though that may be a good theory, difficulties remain, as you most likely won’t fire a family member because they have been late 365 days in a row. While a family environment encourages personal relationships, a sense of community and a feeling of security, it may also discourage competition, lower expectations, or struggle with visible accountability.

In a team environment, expectations are clear, boundaries are set, and performance is key. In retaining top talent for the growth and success of the business, accountability, competition, and feedback are all important components in guaranteeing a team environment holds onto the right person. In a family environment, leadership will often hold onto employees that no longer share the same values, common goals or are underperforming, all due to a sense of loyalty and emotional connections.

In order to have a healthy balance, leadership needs to maintain a strong loyalty and respect for their employees, all while developing healthy expectations. If the person is right, but the seat is wrong, ask what the solution may be. Where can this team player be placed to best utilize their specific strengths and talents? A team mindset understands that having a person in the wrong role affects the entire business. It may develop distrust in accountability from leadership internally, or externally client relationships may suffer. A ship cannot sail properly in the right direction if the crewmembers don’t each perform their assigned role.

Mark Miller’s blog, “Great Leaders Serve” uses the following example: “If you are a manager of a baseball team and your second baseman can’t catch ground balls you replace him. However, if rather than a team paradigm, you’ve chosen to embrace a family paradigm, you probably let the underperforming second baseman stay – not only does he stay on the team, he will likely stay on the field. You feel helpless to replace him, because he’s part of the family.”

This is not to say that managers must be cold or unconcerned with individual needs of their employees. It’s actually the opposite. A team leader sees the small picture (the individual employee’s strengths and weaknesses) and the big picture (how this affects the team as a whole). This combination allows management to develop the best work place environment that benefits the individual employee.

When developing your business, or identifying solutions to personnel problem, take a step back to consider what work environment you want – a team, or a second family?

Mark Miller, Great Leaders Serve (

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Klemchuk LLP is a litigation, intellectual property, transactional, and international business law firm dedicated to protecting innovation. The firm provides tailored legal solutions to industries including software, technology, retail, real estate, consumer goods, ecommerce, telecommunications, restaurant, energy, media, and professional services. The firm focuses on serving mid-market companies seeking long-term, value-added relationships with a law firm. Learn more about experiencing law practiced differently and our local counsel practice.

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