Niki from our Customer Experience Team Asks: “How do you create a family of 150+ people who aren’t related?”
Way back in 1858, one of the great lines from literature is the opening of Anna Karenina. Tolstoy wrote:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
It’s a clever little idea and a great start to a great book. There’s no doubt one can say the same thing about companies, teams and and organizations.
We are in the businesses of selling custom logo apparel and promotional products primarily through the Internet. Like all families, our company is made up of a sometimes vexing but always interesting variety of temperaments, life experiences, education, skills and aspirations.
We have nine departments: administration, marketing, customer experience/service, art, enterprise/sales, IT, warehouse, screen print and embroidery.
While there is great diversity within these individual teams, each group also has some shared qualities that makes them unique.
In a sense, each department is like a family member. As you can imagine, the “personality” of our embroidery team, our largest, is very different from that of our marketing team. Our screen print team’s “personality” is very different from that of our enterprise/sales team.
Each department is crucial. Sometimes, all feel underappreciated and inter-departmental communications become often difficult. Still, every day the pressure is on to get stuff done and pay the bills.
Now that sounds like a family to me!
At Queensboro, we define leadership as any action that influences others.
Good leadership leads to positive change and progress. Poor leadership leads to destruction and retreat.
At Queensboro, we are a family. Each of us is a leader, whether we like it or not. So the question is not really how to create a family, but how to make a happy one.
My first marriage ended in what felt to me like a very messy divorce. After 20-plus years, my ex and I still don’t communicate despite having an almost 30-year-old daughter. The two years surrounding our break-up was the hardest period of my life. When we split, our daughter was about six, an age requiring lots of parental cooperation. We did not agree on anything and we couldn’t talk without fighting. After 15 years of bootstrapping in Brooklyn, I had just moved Queensboro to North Carolina and was fighting for the company’s survival. It was a very rough time.
We ended up in court fighting over custody. I couldn’t believe my ears when at the end of the trial, as the judge ruled against me, he said “This is a couple that gets along and communicates relatively well.” “Wow!” I thought. “Do people really get along worse than we do?”
It was an unhappy chapter in my life, but it was not without its lessons. I now apply those lessons to my current “mine, yours and ours” family at home, as well as my family at work.
Three biggest lessons I learned on how to create a happy family, both at home and at work.
- Eat together. At least once a month at work, the entire company have lunch together. It is not a command performance, but those that don’t consistently show up tell us a lot about how they feel by their absence. It is expensive, time consuming and requires a lot of resources and planning to do right – the food alone has to be good and thoughtfully presented! I’m not 100% sure why this is so important, but it is.
- Think and talk about relationships a lot. It’s a little touchy-feely and awkward, but when we are not talking about relationships, we are generally not getting along that well. That doesn’t make anyone happy. Relationships are the cornerstone of our leadership philosophy. We believe good leadership can’t exist without the trust and understanding that go along with good, solid relationships. To talk about relationships is to share an acknowledgment that they are important. Relationships can’t be an afterthought, they need to be a primary thought. It is said “You always hurt the ones you love.” – the people you love should be the last ones you hurt. Even with all that said, we still don’t talk about relationships enough.
- Honesty IS the best policy – Nothing in nature is static and that includes families. Good leadership from all team members leads to growth and improvement. Some discomfort is unavoidable for change and growth to happen though. I am also not 100% certain why being honest is so often such a difficult thing. Honesty is kind of like the anti-gravity force in life. It takes honesty to keep relationships aloft and moving forward. How is anyone ever supposed to just know what you are thinking? Can you move forward together if you are not aligned? How do you get aligned without honesty? Does anyone really believe good relationships, great leadership, and a happy family exist without it?
At Queensboro we want to be great in our own way, but we want to be happy doing it. Take that, Tolstoy!
Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends and extended (hopefully happy) family out there! We appreciate your business and support. We look forward to working with you for many years to come.