Should You Refer To Your Workplace As A Family Or A Team?

By Shawn Burcham
team

Jack Daly, a friend and mentor of mine, likes to say, “Most sports teams are run better than most businesses.” And, he’s 100% accurate!

When I write welcome letters to new employee-owners at PFSbrands, I am excited to welcome them to a thriving team. My personal purpose in life is to help others become more successful in work and in life. This purpose is one of the primary reasons I’m constantly looking to start new ventures or invest in scalable companies.

It’s not uncommon for some businesses to refer to their place of work as a family. I take pride in creating a “family-like atmosphere” where we treat everyone with respect, we care, we have fun, and we have empathy for each other. With that said, I’m also careful to avoid calling my employees and employee-owners a family unit.

Great businesses, and great sports teams, consist of high-performing team members that love to be held accountable for results. Using a sports analogy, let’s consider Nick Saban, the football coach at the University of Alabama. Each year, Saban gets a group of young freshmen that he knows he will only have four years to develop and mold into his systems and processes. He realizes that these young men come from all types of different family backgrounds. Family means different things to different people. Regardless of what type of family these young men came from, Saban realizes that it is his job to mold them into his high-performance, results-based culture. He’s done a fantastic job year over year at building high-performing teams even though he only has four years with each individual team member.

When you treat your business like a team, it allows you to coach people up and coach people out. In most family units, it’s not typical for family members to “exit.” In businesses, and in high-performing sports teams, people are consistently entering and exiting the organization. As it pertains to exiting, sometimes this decision to leave is made by the employee and sometimes by the employer. Like it or not, working relationships with employees are temporary and almost always come to an end.

Because of my athletic background and leadership lessons learned from great coaches, I’ve always leaned toward treating my businesses like sports teams. I’ve consistently worked to lead by example, hire the right people, pivot often, and share a scoreboard so we all know if we are winning or losing. When onboarding new employees, be sure to set clear expectations and then follow up with 1-on-1 coaching sessions to check in on performance and adherence to core values. By creating consistent check-ins, leaders are positioned to help employees become more successful.

Too often, I get asked about turnover rate. Turnover rate is not a metric that I put a lot of emphasis on. We have to understand that many employees won’t stay at the same company for their entire career, and that’s definitely ok. Change is often good. As companies grow, so do the expectations of those that work there. Fast-growing companies will often outgrow certain individuals, while some individuals may outgrow the companies they work for.

My father was my lifelong coach and always had great words of wisdom. One of the things he taught me was to “work to never burn a bridge.” While that’s not always possible as an entrepreneur and leader, I’ve been extremely successful offboarding employees because my core purpose is to help others become more successful in work and in life. If an employee decides to leave, I’m rarely upset. In 20+ years, I’ve only lost a few employees that I’d hire back. Not because I don’t like them and not because they are bad people, but, quite simply, things have changed since I hired them. I like to thank them for their contribution to our team and wish them the best of luck as they work to improve their personal and professional lives.

Want another sports analogy? Look no further than Tom Brady’s massive success with the New England Patriots. Regardless of who’s decision it was for Brady to leave New England, he went on to future success with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Teams change, businesses change, expectations change, and people change.

Remember, most sports teams are run better than most businesses. Rather than treating your business like a family, treat your business like a team.