Team lessons from a family holiday

Published on August 28, 2018

Our summer holiday was spent in close quarters with two other families: six adults; four kids; two teenagers. Together we rented a house on the shores of Lake Annecy, which is a beautiful spot on the south-western side of the French Alps. This was a warts-and-all holiday. Living in each other's pockets for two weeks meant that our respective idiosyncrasies, habits, family scripts and personality patterns were clearly on show for each other to see. What an eclectic bunch we are and it was a joy to have both the company of these people, and insight into their lives.

I think we all had our moments. Couples arguing, kids fighting, individuals wanting time out from the group, judgments over who was pulling their weight and who wasn't. Sound familiar? However, these were the less frequent moments during organised chaos, with a group that comfortably navigated chores, activities and mealtimes amongst a fortnight of fun and laughter.

Imagine the benefits if work teams adopted a more familiar family approach. At work we mostly turn up in the version of ourselves that our ego is comfortable to have on display, and all the while everyone else is more aware than we are of our, allegedly hidden, peculiarities and challenges. We hold back and withdraw from conversations for fear of creating tension, discomfort and conflict. We often maintain harmony over disturbance while compromising innovation and progress.

"fall-out regularly; work through it quickly"

IBM's famous "fail fast; learn faster" mantra could perhaps have a people focused equivalent called "fall-out regularly; work through it quickly". The young kids on holiday were superstars at this. Variable collaborations, disagreements, competing agendas, battles for resources and power struggles quickly gave rise to apologies, new order, experiments and high levels of productivity in the field of children's work called play.

A couple of years back while facilitating a team development off-site, a client offered the notion that high performing teams could perhaps look to family life for a useful practical model. I agree, and have both adopted his idea and reflected upon it. Even with a level of dysfunction common to most families (because they are human), there is enough trust and relationship to fall-out regularly and work through it quickly. There is an acceptance and comfort in the knowledge of being in it together and supporting each other. Warts are visible and often addressed; proximity requires resolution, and issues have to be faced into.

The kind of trust and relationship that accelerates meaningful progress doesn't happen because someone says it's a good idea - we all know trust matters already. It happens through real conversations, stepping into the shitty stuff, spending time together (including fun), and knowing through experience that we have each other's back.

How's the trust and relationship currency going with your team?


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