A recent Wall Street Journal column by Bruce Feiler, Family Inc., lists some great examples of families taking workplace team building and productivity models and using them to improve their home lives.
I imagine there are many people who might read that opening statement and feel an immediate wave of dislike, or even disgust at the idea. Work is already creeping into our home and family lives at a pace we abhor, and for many of us, the answer is to try and draw a sharper line between our two worlds.
For me, however, Feiler’s column immediately resonated. My opening for a team building skills class is often to talk about how the communication and conflict resolution skills we’ll be building in the class will help participants just as much in their personal lives as in their professional lives. I usually go on to ask participants to describe their best team experience, and many of them talk about their families as teams.
Tools like weekly or daily meetings, message boards, family mission statements, communal calendars, conflict debriefings and progress charts can help families improve their communication, set group goals and track progress toward them, and coordinate activities more smoothly. Talking about what went well and what needs to be improved each week can help families learn together. And empowering the children to make decisions about what work needs to get done and how to do it helps the kids build confidence and start putting together the tool box they will need to successfully hit the real workplace in a few years.
I don’t have children myself, but I think about my own childhood. I grew up in a family business, so work and family life were always mixed and continue to be even today. But we have always lacked the perspective of putting workplace tools to use in our home lives, perhaps because with the exception of me, everyone in my family has always been self-employed and lived in a decidedly non-corporate world. If anyone was going to introduce tools from the organizational development world, it would have had to be me, and I fear it may be too late for that. But perhaps someday I’ll become an aunt and get a second chance. As Feiler says, today we have more knowledge than ever before to help make the work of family life easier, much of it from America’s leading organizations. It’s time to find ways of using it.