Should you treat your employees like family?

More and more businesses are moving toward the idea of their team being like their family, but Indiegogo co-founder Danae Ringelmann says that it doesn’t actually benefit business.

"We had a conversation a couple of years ago because we have these team dinners and team lunches every month and for a while we started hearing people say things like family dinner," she explains. "But there’s all this research that shows you don’t want that.

"What we wanted it to be and what we call it is team dinner because with families you're always the same, it never changes but that's not the reality of teams. While we work our butts off with teams to keep people engaged and productive and learning and growing, there are times when people need to move on and that's ok.

"We have people who have left us to go back to medical school and we just can't help them with that!"

It’s not about moving away from family, she says. It’s actually that family and team are two different concepts. "A team is people who are all productively engaged and working towards the same goal but can be, and should be, very different people individually. It's the mission that brings them together, in terms of an aligned goal, and it’s the values that are the glue and the oil - it brings you together but keeps things moving forward."

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Ringelmann certainly isn’t the first to suggest that treating your company like a family isn’t beneficial. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, stated in a now famous presentation on his company’s culture, "We’re a team, not a family."

Hastings explained that he runs his company "like a pro sports team, not a kid’s recreational team," saying that he advised managers to ask themselves which of their people they would fight hard to keep at Netflix if they were planning to leave.

Read: How to create a family-friendly workplace

"The other people should get a generous severance now so we can open a slot to try to find a star for that role," he said.

Unlike a family, a professional sports team has a specific mission, in the same way as a business. The make up of that team also changes over time, like employees in a business, because players choose to change teams or because the team’s management decides to trade or cut a player. It seems that this metaphor fits how entrepreneurs should think of their employees better than the family narrative, which is often repeated.

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But the most important reason that a business is not like a family for Ringelmann? Diversity. Families, generally, are pretty similar and have similar experiences but, Ringelmann says, the best teams are diverse and bring lots of different ideas to the table and the best companies have a culture that makes them want to stick around. 

"When you've built a culture where people can bring their different ideas (because they are diverse people) and it's heard and embraced and even tested, that's what keeps people around," she says.

"They realise it's a place they can contribute. If they are seeing the same people are heard and promoted all the time, it's not a place for them so they'll leave. That's a logical decision. People like to be impactful, it's pretty simple. If there are barriers to making an impact, then they'll go somewhere else."

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