Historically, many businesses have started as family operations. Everyone was blood related. There was a clear chain of command and an unspoken plan for pressing down the power and handing over control of the company.
What fascinates me today is how the meme of the “family business” is still intact — even though few companies are owned and operated by a single family.
Today, strangers working together as one operate most large businesses, and many times you find the present pressing ideal that — “employees are family” — even though it isn’t true.
Strangers can never have the same rights or expectations for future employment that comes with a family business, yet the notion that we’re “all in this together by blood” — even in giant, international, conglomerates — is a curious forcing of a familial tie even when none exists.
Why do companies try to create the family feeling? Does it help foster closeness and compatibility? Does a family create false allegiances and temporary hope?
Several years ago, I attended a meeting where everyone was working on a project together, but none of us were working under the same roof — that’s one bane of being independent contractors — and one of the participants at the initial get-together said, “We’re in this as one. We’re family. We’ll make it work.”
The moment the word “family” was spoken, another person raised his hand and, thumping his other hand against the table said, “No. We are not family. We are not related. This is business. We’re in business together, but there’s no family.”
Well, that comment put a harsh chill in the room on the first day, and I tried to break the forming ice by cracking a joke: “I guess this means ‘getting into bed together’ is out of the question?”
Another guy across the room chuckled, while the woman sitting next to me said, “Oh, we’ll be screwing each other before the meeting is over.”
We all laughed and the permafrost moment passed — but the “We’re not family” guy was slowly squeezed out of the project for what I now believe was his punishment for speaking the truth as he knew it and the reality as we shared it.
Sometimes, it seems, it’s best to play along in business and create new bloodlines and take vows with one another while fomenting new promises, and propagating your future together by nesting with strangers… even if it means you’re branded the black sheep of the family.