Your Family Was Your First Team

Published: August 3, 2021

Below the tip of the iceberg, down beneath the surface where the secrets live, you’ll find the original source of today’s team dynamics. Although usually invisible in day-to-day interactions, the ways we relate to our teammates have their roots in the families where we were raised. The earliest connection with our parents, siblings, and extended families quietly shapes the way we treat others and expect to be treated. These powers are always in play.

It’s usually under stress when our early lessons rise to the tip of the iceberg and become visible. We all default to behaviors that otherwise live in our blind spots – the way a child might respond to an angry dad or the way brothers and sisters might play out their rivalries. Under pressure, teammates often regress to childhood versions of themselves. Coping strategies, helpful or harmful, unfold in the unique blend of personalities on the team.

Let’s look at both helpful and the harmful examples in each stage of the team.

InnovationComfort with ambiguityAdherence to the status quo
DistancingAdaptabilityResistance to change

It’s always helpful to have an adult in the room. When everyone elevates the grownup version of their best self to the moment, teams accomplish amazing things. The best way to predict the future is to look at the past. Our families taught us important lessons about how to and how not to manage relationships. Which invisible family dynamic is playing out on your team right now?

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.