My Company IS a Family

Reid Hoffman et al. recently wrote an article explaining that a company can never be like a family. I respectfully disagree.

My company, ZenPayroll, is a family, and here’s why I think it’s fine to say this.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that when I use the word “family,” I don’t mean the literal sense of the word. “Family” is a metaphor that best describes the sort of relationship we strive to have with each other in the company.

Allow me to draw an example from my personal life. I have hundreds of friends, but I only consider a couple of them close enough to call my brothers. They call me the same. That doesn’t mean we have the same mother and came from the same womb. It’s simply a way to say that my relationship with them is more akin to the one I have with my two actual sisters than it is to most of my friendships. My “brothers” know all about me and I them, just like my real sisters do.

In the same metaphorical way, I use the word “family” to describe the people in my company, ZenPayroll. It doesn’t mean that we’re an actual family. As the original article accurately points out, a company can fire their employees, unlike a real family, who shouldn't fire their kids. It does, however, mean that the relationship we currently have with each other is more than just a team, which is just a group of people bound together only by a common goal. We're probably more like a large group of cousins. 

Here are a few small ways I feel we’re more like a family than a team:

  • We eat meals in the office around the dining table. Seldom do people take food back to their desks. Why? We actually enjoy each other’s company. The conversations one might overhear are eclectic and not typically about work. They can involve a lot of laughter, debate, and are sometimes over a bottle of wine. Our meals are more similar to a family gathering around a dinner table than it is a corporate mess hall.
  • Most everyone has nicknames for each other. Puzzles, Muscles, Numbers, Hustles, Waffles, Bubbles, Banana Slicer, to name a few. Nicknames are not in themselves so special, but they do point to a closer relationship we have with each other than a “colleague” or “co-worker.”
  • We take our shoes off in the office – our office is uniquely us and we try to treat our office with the same level of care as we would our home. 
  • Not everything we do together is all about work. Weekend bike rides, midday runs through the city, and Friday evening wine tasting at Bluxome Street Winery are just some of the things we do together outside of work. This is not "team-building" either. It’s not mandatory fun or company sponsored. Not everyone participates, but many do. It’s natural and fun. We actually enjoy our relationships with each other and want it to be more than professional.

Unlike a team, which must always optimize decisions that will result in the shortest path to their goal, we’ll often optimize decisions to do the right thing for our family. As it turns out, making decisions to protect our family is often the best way for us to achieve our goals as a team.

Perhaps a more accurate thing to say is my company is family-like, but that just doesn’t have quite the same ring as family

14 responses
AWESOME ! Completely true. The startup ecosystem enables families and groups of unknown people who have the same passions. This mixture makes the explosion of friendship
I work in a company that strives to be like a family. Be careful that doesn't result in discriminatory hiring practices. Families tend to have the same genes.
Families don't ultimately fire members not pulling their weight. Any business has to face such a reality.
There's a lot more to being family than eating meals together and riding bikes. They say family are the people you can't choose. Those who do choose to cut themselves off from their families pay a price--there is usually a reason and both sides pay a price in emotional scars. If something happened to you the company wouldn't suffer emotionally. Neither would the brass. Saying you're family usually comes from the top down and is a subtle form of brainwashing to engender loyalty. Clearly it worked on you.
Very like your company, but is there any opportunity for a graduating student with Finance major and Accounting minor :)
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