Teams Are No Different Than Families

Published: September 14, 2022

It’s time to get clear about what is sanctioned in the workplace. Psychology 101 teaches us that dysfunction is considered normal by children until they reach sufficient emotional maturity to realize it’s not. Do you mean all dads don’t abuse moms? No way? I thought treating people like $#!T was the way all families operate. Unless and until you have that epiphany, you are extremely likely to select a workplace culture that perpetuates your own personal pathology. Most workplaces are populated by employees who haven’t figured that out. That’s the prime reason healthy cultures are so rare.

Consider the examples of negative workplace interactions you’ve probably experienced in your career.

  • An unconventional idea gets punished.
  • A call from the boss is assumed to be an admonishment.
  • A minority opinion is dismissed or marginalized.
  • The excitement of innovation is dampened by the discomfort of others.
  • Different perspectives are experienced as threats to the status quo.
  • Change is resisted.
  • Respect, trust, wellness, and psychological safety can’t be counted on.

These are the markers of dysfunctional organizations. If the leadership team comes from a dysfunctional background, the symptoms become normalized and, unfortunately, not experienced as a problem at all. The culture attracts more of the same. Sickness gets reinforced again and again instead of wellness. Worse yet, no one acknowledges the pain.

Because pain is familiar. Struggle is expected. Work is not supposed to be fun, energizing, and collaborative. You’re supposed to brace yourself on Sunday night to endure Monday, and then spend the rest of the week looking forward to Friday. You scramble to pack the weekend with enough rejuvenating activity to be able to stomach the next Sunday night realization that you have to do it again.

The solution to this cycle is to break it completely. Shed the normalization of deviance from the culture. Expect healthy relationships and functional teams instead. Realizing that having a history of trauma does not give you permission to traumatize others. Every workplace, like every family, should aspire to become healthier than its role models.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.