Patrick Lencioni, who developed the concept of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, also proposes the question “What is your first team?”. This question is often asked to executives when people are more concerned about their own functional area rather than the organization as a whole. Reflecting on this question has led me to consider my first team, my family.
To put into context, my husband and I both work full time, for the same organization. We have 2 children, a preschooler and a fourth grader. When we started dating and eventually decided to join teams and become a family unit, equality was and still is an important part of our relationship. For us that means one person’s career is not put above the other. That we both sacrifice to make the best decisions for our family, our first team.
Taking a family first approach has meant that when there is a great opportunity for one of us to progress, we make the decisions that follow together as a team. There have been times where each of us took lateral positions so that our family could stay together geographically while supporting one spouse’s progression. There have been instances in both of our careers when one of us had to take on the sole parenting responsibilities when the other was away, sometimes from 6 months to a year. We rely on the larger family network to help us when our work responsibilities take both of us away for periods of time.
Our family has a list of norms that have served us exceptionally well over the years thus far.
- Supper is a must attend. This is where we discuss our day and ideas. Exceptions are made deliberately.
- If working late, let people know in advance.
- Talk through opportunities and the impacts for the other spouse.
- Big decisions, even work ones are discussed before committing.
- Split up parenting tasks. Including school drop off, after-school activities and making supper.
- Make plans together.
This mindset has served us well, and now during COVID-19 when schools and daycares are closed we continue to share the home responsibilities. On normal days we have the day split. I am the primary caregiver in the morning. Ensuring that homework gets completed and our preschooler is entertained while my husband works from home. We have lunch together and after we swap duties so that I can work from home.
In the evening when the children are settled we return to work to complete any tasks that slipped away during the day. Some days this needs to be amended if one of us has a deadline we need to meet or needs to go into the office, then it gets renegotiated for that short duration.
The hidden blessing that COVID-19 has given us is time together. I do not believe that there has been another time in our relationship where we have spent the entire spring together.
The first team approach has been the greatest tool for our family to overcome the challenges that stay at home policies have created. This approach is most successful when we communicate our expectations for all team members and develop our plans together. Here are some things as you reflect on how to build teamwork in your family:
- Communicate: Make sure you are including all considerations by over communicating when making a plan.
- Think of the family as one unit: This means looking at opportunities for the family at large.
- Encourage and support individual opportunities and goals within the family: Talk through those goals and see how the family can assist and provide additional support to reach those goals. Be realistic about the time this will take and find how this works with your family schedule and dynamics.
- Ensure everyone is contributing to the heavy lifting: Consider all team members strengths and weaknesses and make plans that support your team dynamics.
- Be flexible: Re-evaluate the division of responsibility when changes (internal or external) occur.
I never have to think that our family is not the first team. It was my husband that taught me to think of our journey that way. This gives safety so that we each pursue goals knowing we have trust and support of our family team alongside us.
This team approach has played a vital role in our transition to remote work. I am confident that our family unit can overcome challenges and uncertainty because we are on each other’s first team.
About the Author
Cindy Legarie is an Engineer Officer with over 20 year of experience in the Canadian Army and a Professional Engineer with the province of New Brunswick. Cindy joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1997 and has served in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Ukraine in leadership and planning positions. Cindy complied personal anecdotes from soldiers who served in 2 Combat Engineer Regiment into a book Bridges, Jumpers, Divers and Demolitions: An anecdotal History of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment in time for the unit’s 40th anniversary.
Cindy focuses on personal leadership development by raising awareness of the impact leaders have on their team and being fiercely accountable for their actions and decisions as well as the results and atmosphere of their team. She is believes all teams need to be grounded in a common purpose and the foundation of a good team is trust.
The Gasparotto Group helps organizations create cultures that develop highly effective leaders and build strong, resilient teams.