• Can you apply the same principles of successful workplace teamwork to your family unit?

  • Psychologist George Karseras suggest five ways families can work best together

Happy teams tend to be successful teams and successful teams tend to be happy teams, so the best way to maximise teamwork is to ensure the team is both happy and successful. This is easier said than done, as teams – whether they are families or workplace teams – contain illogical and emotional members called people!

1. Discuss why the team exists

My first tip is for the team to discuss and ultimately agree on why it exists and what it is trying to achieve together. 

In a family, Mum or Dad may have an idea of why they work so hard, but do they discuss with the children what their dreams are for the family unit, why they had a family in the first place or what they would like the family to contribute for each others’ wellbeing or to the wider community? 

These are quite profound questions for the family to discuss, but the research tells us that having a collective sense of purpose really helps teams work better together. If the children are too young to participate, then this is a great discussion to have with your partner.

2. Encourage everyone to sign up to the 'rules of the road'

I encourage the teams I develop in business and indeed my own family to sign up to the ‘rules of the road’. These target norms are best generated by the team or family rather than being ‘told’ by the team leader or the parent(s). 

For example a team might agree to ‘be kind to each other and apologise if we upset someone’ or ‘share the chores of the house or team evenly’. Agreements can be written up and put on the fridge or the office wall as a reminder of what’s expected. Just doing this alone increases the chances of these agreements being upheld.

Setting the team up to succeed isn’t enough though, the best teams have buckets of psychological safety, where the team members feel able to speak up and say how they are feeling without fear of recourse. You can build this safety in two ways:

3. Have regular discussions on ‘how’ team members are feeling

These discussions are a perfect way to discuss whether the ‘rules of the road’ are being upheld. Listen to each person in turn describe how it has felt being part of the family or team and especially how they are feeling at the current time. Do they have any feedback they would like to share?  Encourage both appreciations and frustrations to be aired. Avoid arguing, justifying or explaining, even if you disagree with what is being said. Just let the person be heard. When everyone has spoken then agree as a team or family which areas you’d like to discuss to improve matters. I’d recommend 4 of these types of discussions through the year, once every 3 months. Airing frustrations and appreciations is good for well-being and boosts mental health.

4. Prioritise laughter and fun

Mood is contagious and being up-beat, optimistic, and laughing together is a wonderful way to keep spirits up. To help you do this, fully embrace the concept of team learning. When the team accepts it will make mistakes and embraces them as learning opportunities its members can remain positive even in tough times and be more likely not to make mistakes in the first place.

5. Focus on developing constructive tension

This is where there is some but not too much tension in the family or team. It may sound paradoxical but a bit of tension is no bad thing. 

If there is relentless harmony then it is very probable people are not being honest or not extending or developing themselves enough for the benefit of the team or family unit. Too much tension can be catastrophic – aggression or violence in particular. 

To be constructive the family or team must firstly accept that tension, arguments, differences of opinions or emotional outbursts are to be expected. Rather than bearing grudges, the family or team needs to become good at apologising, owning up to their mistakes, taking care of the impact of their misdemeanours and most importantly talking about them together calmly and without getting emotionally charged.

George Karseras is a psychologist and the author of Build Better Teams: Creating Winning Teams in the Digital Age 

Further reading

9 tips for parenting teens post-pandemic

Should parents step back from rescuing their children?

3 ways to practise mindfulness with your children

How to write your family history

Understanding family dynamics