When My Team Becomes a Family

Written by: Ron Scheese

It is no secret that the culture of an organization is a critical element in its long-term success.

For example:

Sustained success over a long period in the National Football League is incredibly rare. Yet, somehow, “The Patriot Way” has made prolific winners of the New England Patriots.  Coach Bill Belichick places a high value on work ethic, players challenge each other to be better, and the team’s culture and chemistry is placed ahead of any of its individual parts in decision making.  When All-Pro defensive tackle Vince Wilfork left the Patriots after spending his first eleven NFL seasons with the team, he tweeted “We will always be family.”

In a high-profile player league like the NBA, San Antonio Spurs’ coach, Greg Popovich, is recognized for having players buy into a philosophy that the team comes before any personal achievements.  ESPN Analyst Bruce Bowen, who played on three of the Spurs’ championship teams, said “the sense of family and accomplishment sets the Spurs apart from other franchises. Even if you come up short of the goal of championship, you can still relish in the fact that your life has changed because you’ve been in this environment.”

It is difficult to argue with the success Duke University’s basketball coach. Mike Krzyzewski, has achieved. But his emphasis on culture is what separates him from his rivals.  Current sophomore forward Jack White made this comment, “When I actually saw the culture in person and experienced it for myself, it’s clear that family culture is one of the strongest things we have in this program.  Everyone looks out for one another, where it’s player-to-player, coach-to-player, among the coaching staff or with any of our other staff around campus. It’s just a big family, and the impact the program has on everyone who’s been through it shows in how much guys want to give back to Duke.”

Listen to or read interviews with these highly-successful coaches and rarely do you hear them talk about the results (wins-losses). The numbers, statistics and records are the outcomes of establishing, nurturing and maintaining a winning culture. It surprises me how many times these coaches use the word “family” to describe their teams and their organizations. Despite the success of these championship-caliber teams, I do not recall a single business article which recommends the creation of a family atmosphere to achieve a higher standard of performance.  In fact, most adamantly recommend the family metaphor not be used because it is too personal.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson University’s head football coach also emphasizes culture ahead of winning.  His “Clemson Family” theme is intentional, not accidental.  As quoted from the Clemson World article It’s How You Win That Matters,   “If you like Clemson or not, if you’ve watched us play over the last seven years, the one thing that jumps out is that these guys care about each other. They play with passion and toughness and unselfishness. And, from time to time, there’s some discipline situation, and they rally around each other. That’s because we have a family atmosphere.”

At Andesa, we seem to use the terms team and family interchangeably.

I was reflecting on an e-mail that welcomed a new teammate to the Andesa family  when I had the idea to talk to some of our staff about the meaning and emotions behind the words from a business context. When I asked which term they prefer to describe their time at Andesa, the results were fairly evenly split. But when I dug deeper into the emotions and beliefs underlying each term, I uncovered some interesting insights.

Here’s what I heard:

The term team definitely relates to the business. We identify with the “team” concept because we are a group of individuals assembled by talents and attributes to achieve a common goal.  Cooperative, professional, collaborative are phrases used to describe the interaction.  To some extent, one could separate the personal emotion from the objective – competing to make the business successful and keeping score against budget, plan or deadlines.

Those staff members who preferred the family metaphor centered on relationships.  They used words that reflected more emotion such as understanding, supportive, safe, open, caring, and unity to describe their interactions. At this level, there is no separation between the personal commitment and the business.  It’s not about win-lose but about commitment to each other and the journey. As described in the Patriots, Spurs, Duke and Clemson examples, it’s probably not surprising that championship-caliber teams achieve a level of emotional engagement such that the players feel they are part of a family.

Andesa is not a family or a team. Andesa is a family and a team.

The transition of Andesa from a closely-held, entrepreneurial business to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) model provides some unique opportunities in our evolution. As I move forward in my leadership at Andesa, I’ll probably continue to use the terms team and family interchangeably; but with perhaps a little more precision.

Teams are about the goals, the numbers and the results.

Teams are about the goals, the numbers and the results. Teams need to be led.  Great teammates place the team first and hold each other accountable.  They set high standards and expectations and give maximum effort to achieve the objective. When the conversation is about the business and business growth; about a particular project; when we must work together to accomplish a common goal or change the status quo; then I’ll try to emphasize the Andesa Team.

Families are about people and relationships.

To educate, mentor and encourage are the words which come to mind when we use family as a business descriptor. Katherine and I love our children.  We encourage them to be independent, to strive for their best, to not settle and to reach their full potential. It is out of a spirit of love and caring that we encourage and support them.  When the desire is to create a caring, supportive, mentoring atmosphere; when the emphasis is on relationships and personal growth; I’ll try to emphasize the Andesa Family.

Andesa’s goals are to have a great employee environment, highly satisfied clients and a financially successful and sustainable business for the long-term.  These goals require us to perform as a team to consistently meet interim objectives and, equally important, behave as a family, being personally committed to one another – we are all in this together.  Finding the proper balance is critical.  The minimum expectations are that each of us buy into the vision, live the values of the organization, hold each other accountable and support each other through the ups and downs.  The model might not work 100 percent of the time in all cases and circumstances; but over time, we know it can work in the majority of situations.

Team and family.  After all, the first three letters in Andesa are AND!

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