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Work Together as a Family Team: 8 Secrets to Success

by | Apr 26, 2021

Have you ever been a part of a super high-functioning team? It’s invigorating and deeply satisfying when you get to work with people whose personalities, dedication to a common goal, and individual talents mesh in a way that seems like they were made for each other.

If you’ve experienced that kind of inspirational team spirit at work or with an actual sports team, you know it doesn’t happen by accident. It comes from dedicated leadership that creates an environment where each individual has the opportunity to thrive.

Believe it or not, our families have the potential to operate that way too. Maybe not 100% of the time; we are raising children after all. But by and large, when we as family leaders understand how to create the optimum environment for our family teams, all of us benefit in incalculable ways mentally, physically, and emotionally. Starting as early as possible with the family team concept is beneficial for all.

Family Team = No More Martyrdom

No parent should ever feel like a martyr. Unfortunately, it’s a very, VERY common sentiment.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though!

Unless you have infants, your children are absolutely capable of contributing to the family in meaningful ways. And your partner is just that, your PARTNER, not another child. It’s completely possible for all of you to work together as a family.

So don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “It takes too long to explain how things need to be done. It’s easier if I just do it.”

It may be easier now, but in the long run, you’re missing a huge opportunity to help your kids learn new skills, be responsible, and be accountable when things don’t work out as they had hoped and expected.

Your family is a team. Maybe they don’t act like it yet. Maybe they’re resistant to change. But that’s what we’re going to talk about in-depth: how to bring them together as a team and give you and your partner the leadership tools to keep things running smoothly.

8 Secrets to Creating Your Ultimate Family Team

01 | Agreement on the Value of Becoming a Team

No matter how much you believe in it, just wanting your family to behave more like a team will not make them do it. They have to see the benefits and want to change just as much as you do.

02 | A Shared Vision of Success

What does “team” mean in your family? What exactly needs to change in order for your family team to thrive? Do you have a plan for how your team will adapt over time as children mature and take on more responsibilities? Are your children part of making that plan? A shared vision of success is something everyone needs to contribute to.

03 | Mutual Trust and Respect

Trust and respect are fundamental parts of any long-term relationship. When we’re talking about your family team, every team member needs to make choices in good faith that their efforts will be rewarded, not in the sense of candy, stickers, or money.

Rewards come in the form of more independence, flexibility in schedules and rules, more choices offered, and whatever else you establish as appropriate in your family.

04 | Clear and Reasonable Expectations

Expectations in general are not a bad thing. Every high-performance team expects that the other team members will carry their fair share of the load. That’s assuming though, they all understand what the load is and what part of it is theirs to carry.

Your success as a family team must include regular communication about what is needed from every member and what they are willing and able to give.

05 | Open Communication

In a family, when communication is “open,” it allows for opinions, needs, mistakes, and successes all to be shared without fear of judgment, punishment, or any other negative response.

There are a number of skills involved, including active listening, repeating back what you’ve heard, using noninflammatory language, and such. But the most important piece is simply listening with the intent to connect and support, not respond. Regular family meetings are a great way to keep communication flowing.

06 | Strong Conflict Resolution Skills

There is no such thing as a family without conflict. Having the skills to resolve conflict peaceably and respectfully go a long way in maintaining overall satisfaction and joy.

07 | Appreciate Your Differences

Not every member of a sports team plays every position well. Likewise, not every member of your family team needs to be good at or responsible for all the same things.

Working together, maximizing our individual strengths with a common goal, results in the best outcome for the team overall.

08 | Opportunities to Learn Together

Besides the sheer value of learning something new, by participating in a wide variety of activities with our children, including things we’re not good at, we show them our weaknesses, so they might gain perspective about how we continue to learn new things over a lifetime.

In doing things we are good at already, we show them our strengths and talents, so they may be inspired to continue practicing and see us as more than just their parents. We are fallible and we are awesome. When our children see that and we remind ourselves, we are all more likely to feel that camaraderie we so desire.

  • 8 specific topics to address and establish the framework for your team;
  • discussion of why each element matters and how to make it happen for your family team;
  • prompts for conducting important conversations;
  • reflection questions for you, your partner, and your children.
Creating Your Ultimate Family Team Workbook

4 Stages of a Family Team

It’s all well and good to look at a list of concepts and say, “Yeah, my family can do that.” Then you actually try to put it into practice and the whole thing blows up in your face.

What you may not know is that all teams, whether work or family related, go through stages:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing

The concept was first coined in 1965 by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in his paper “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” The stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing represent a cycle of how groups of people, including families, come together, struggle for a bit, adjust to each other’s needs and styles, and ultimately succeed.

Your family team started when you became a couple. 

Family Team - Forming

Forming Your Family Team:

Remember when you and your partner came together? It was pure bliss, at least we hope it was. You each came from a family team, call them Family Team A and Family Team B.

With your partner, you formed Family Team C with hopes, a shared view of the future, mutual trust for one another, and appreciation of your differences while looking forward to learning from each other. It was heaven … right? The wonders of the forming stage.

Family Team - Storming

Your Team Starts Storming:

Then a few differences started to show up with simple things like where to put things, doing the dishes, appropriate levels of road rage, where to go on vacation, which couples to hang out with, how much money to spend or save, maybe politics or religion, and probably more.

Welcome to the storming stage. Frustration, differences in perspective, and sometimes wondering, did I make the right decision?

Family Team - Norming

The Peace of Norming:

Then your heart and communication skills kicked in, and you began to sort through your real sense of the future as a couple, aligning around values, setting expectations, talking less and listening more to really understand, and sharing your innermost feelings. Ah, you were getting back to heaven on earth again … you were norming!

Family Team - Performing

Finally, Your Family Team Starts Performing:

And then as a couple and as a team, while you still had differences, your focus was on the things that really made a difference and your common understandings.

You were in the performing stage. You had become a strong couple. You truly became Family Team C. And through the process, you changed and your partner changed.

Then you had a child and had to start the whole FSNP process over again!

Your child, we’ll call him Mr. Soggy Bottom, demanded food, attention, and a not soggy bottom. At that point, what was a blissful life as a couple changed. No more sleepy Sunday mornings; those quiet, intimate moments became few and far between.

The arrival of Mr. Soggy Bottom meant your new team had clearly formed, but along with him were new opportunities for storming. Eventually the new normal began to set in as you worked through each storming issue. You got into a new rhythm and reentered the performing stage. Maybe you’re still working on that, and that’s perfectly okay!

The thing about children is that because they are constantly changing, maturing, exploring, and growing into themselves, it can feel like your family team never stays in that performing stage for very long, if you reach it at all.

But that doesn’t have to be the case for you.

Prepared with the knowledge that building and sustaining your high-functioning team requires going through many cycles of FSNP is totally normal, you can approach those storming sessions with more clarity, patience, and a focus on the future (instead of frustration, anger, and irritation).

The Storming Phase is Normal

Respectful conflict resolution is a tough subject to deal with, especially when you’re in the fray, your emotions are running high, and one of the two people in the discussion has their mouth engaged and ears turned off.

When in the middle of a storm, whether the lightning is flashing and the thunder is booming, the tornado just touched down, the storm surge is rising, or tempers are flaring and voices are getting louder, it’s incredibly difficult to keep your cool.

It’s only natural, when the adrenaline starts pumping and our heart starts racing, we tend to lose control.

Storming is a normal part of the FSNP cycle. It’s a frustrating but important part of growth and development for any group of people, especially families.

Whether with your partner or your children, at some point (many points?), you are going to get into arguments where tempers will flare, and you as a mature adult are going to need to dig deep into your leadership tool kit to find a path forward.

Think about the last time you had an argument with your partner. While in the heat of the “discussion,” did either of you change the other’s mind? Probably not. Did you or your partner say things you later regretted? Probably.

How about arguing with your child? Have you ever pulled the “I’m the parent, so you’ll do what I say” card? It may have shut down the argument at the time, but I’m willing to bet it did very little to actually resolve the issue. If anything, you both likely felt more distant and frustrated afterward.

Tips for Getting Through the Storming Phase

To get through the storm, you first have to get past the emotions of the moment. 

There are two simple approaches, but both require some patience.

Living Space and Family Values

01 | Mute Your Mouth and Engage Your Ears

Really listen to what is being said. You can also take a few deep breaths to get the adrenaline levels back to normal. The key is to stop and listen. When you want to open your mouth, only ask questions aimed at better understanding … NOT about stating your position on the topic.

Think of using the word “why”:

  • Why do you believe that?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • Why would that make a difference?

Remember when your kids were younger and they went through a phase of asking why about everything? They wanted to learn. Now it’s your turn to ask because you really want to know why.

Living Space and Family Values

02 | Take a Walk to Get Things Settled Down

If it’s too hard to mute your mouth and engage your ears, this is your best approach. Kids, particularly preteens and teens, don’t have brains developed enough to disengage. You do. So, take a walk.

While on the walk, focus on a simple question, “Why?” Why are they saying what they are saying or why do they want to do this or why do they believe what they do? When you get back home you’ll likely be relaxed, ready to listen, and ready to ask, “Why?”

Once you understand the why, then you’re ready for the discussion that gets you past the storming and you can focus on how to go forward.

You want your family to be a team, focused on taking care of each other, watching out for each other, doing things together, and making a difference wherever you are.

Muting your mouth, engaging your ears, sometimes taking a walk, and always remembering to ask why can truly make your family a loving and caring team.

Moving Your Family Team Forward

Just like any professional team, your family team will go through periods of forming, storming, norming, and performing. Working through each phase as they come is the life-changing work of seeing your family as an empowered team.

That team can fight against itself with each member constantly looking for ways to assert their independence and value. Or that team can thrive with each member knowing they are wanted, needed, and valued.

Our guide 8 Secrets to Creating Your Ultimate Family Team will walk you through the eight elements of your soon-to-be thriving team with detailed explanations of why each element matters, how to make it happen, and conversation prompts for your partner and your children, plus carefully crafted reflection questions to get everyone thinking about the costs of staying the same and the incredible benefits of moving forward.

  • 8 specific topics to address and establish the framework for your team;
  • discussion of why each element matters and how to make it happen for your family team;
  • prompts for conducting important conversations;
  • reflection questions for you, your partner, and your children.
Creating Your Ultimate Family Team Workbook

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Rick Stephens

Rick Stephens is a co-founder of Raising Families. With 33 years of experience as a top-level executive at The Boeing Company and having raised four children of his own, he is able to support parents and grandparents by incorporating his knowledge of business, leadership, and complex systems into the family setting. In his “free time” Rick enjoys road biking, scuba diving, visiting his grandkids, and generally trying to figure out which time zone he’s in this week. Read full bio >>