The culture club: or why every business is a family business

Culture is the most important single thing in our (or any) company. Without it, a company has no clear voice, no direction, no aspiration and often, no brand. I know this because I have spent more than ten years cultivating a creative work environment that stands or falls on who we are and how we work. Together.

Recently I was told by an acquaintance that they were surprised to hear me talk about my team as “family”. He thought that the use of the term was diminished because it didn’t, in his mind, relate to a place of business. “It’s not a family, so why do you keep talking about it in those terms“. That’s okay, each to their own. But I wholeheartedly and passionately disagree.

As the Director of a business, my team is as important to me as my family. They should be. After all, I ask them to spend more time together than I do with my own family, each and every week. And in return, they graciously spend more time with me nagging them, then with their respective partners. We greet each other every morning, we discuss the latest news, we laugh together, sometimes cry together, eat together. (Thankfully we don’t sleep together). Like most small companies we are immersed in each others social lives as well as our business lives.

It’s a family.

What perplexes me is why anyone would want to invest their time working in an environment that was anything but relative? Been there, done that, I didn’t even get a tee-shirt. I spent many wasted years working in pseudo-eighties agencies where the only thing that mattered was how much blood you were willing to spill before you ran dry, and inevitably ran away. A faceless business, I can assure you, is not a sustainable one.

Being in a creative industry, the work directly reflects the wellbeing and happiness of the people who drive the ideas, that hand-craft the designs, that painstakingly build the products. A happy family can breed interesting, engaging work filled with passion. Yet the absence of that deep-set connection within the family can equally deliver work which is stillborn and mute. After all, it only takes one asshole at a wedding to ruin the album, right? As the great philosopher Tyler Durden once said, “We are all part of the same compost heap“.

When you make the choice to join a company, you make a choice to become an integral part of its DNA. And likewise, when you leave, your parting should be sweet sorrow. We’ve had members of our clan that have had no choice but to leave and their absence is felt every single day, (you know who you are). But we are better off for the time that they spent helping us nurture and raise the culture of our company. That’s how it should be.

It’s a family.

As the owner of a business, if someone is willing to invest a large chunk of their life under your wing, have the heart to build a nest for them.

But for some, as with any marriage, sometimes it is better to recognise that the ring doesn’t quite fit the finger and divorce early.

A small business that works like a family is there to support each other in tough times, and reap rewards in the good. It is not rocket science. It’s everything your mother and father taught you when you were old enough to dream of either running your own business one day or working in one that respected your talents.

Still for some, a place to work is no place for family. But it sounds like a pretty lonely place to me.