February
9th 2013
New ideas for running “team family” like a business! (Not.)

Posted under: American history, childhood, jobs

Stressed out by your chaotic home life?  Why not “run your family like a business?”

Like many parents, the Starrs were trapped between the smooth-running household they aspired to have and the exhausting, earsplitting one they actually lived in. “I was trying the whole ‘love them and everything will work out’ philosophy,” she said, “but it wasn’t working. ‘For the love of God,’ I finally said, ‘I can’t take this any more.’ ”

What the Starrs did next was surprising. Instead of consulting relatives or friends, they looked to David’s workplace. They turned to a cutting-edge program called agile development that has rapidly spread from manufacturers in Japan to startups in Silicon Valley. It’s a system of group dynamics in which workers are organized into small teams, hold daily progress sessions and weekly reviews.

As David explained, “Having weekly family meetings increased communication, improved productivity, lowered stress and made everyone much happier to be part of the family team.”

When my wife and I adopted the agile blueprint in our own home, weekly family meetings with our then-5-year-old twin daughters quickly became the centerpiece around which we organized our family. The meetings transformed our relationships with our kids—and each other. And they took up less than 20 minutes a week.

What kind of disorganization and anomie are people living in these days that having a weekly family meeting seems like some kind of brilliant breakthrough?  (And, wow:  I guess the author of this article should get Dad of the Year for spending 20 minutes a week talking to his twins.)  Don’t miss the part in the article when the author discusses writing a “family mission statement.”  Hint:  these mission statements are just as full of business-speak flatulence as most business mission statements.

I don’t mean to brag, but we have a nightly family meeting we like to call dinner.  It may not seem as efficient as one 20-minute weekly meeting, but I think that it’s efficient in that we can eat a meal and talk to each other, review the events of the day, and go over the stuff that needs to happen that night and/or the next day.  As in most business meetings, we consider it bad form to answer a telephone call or respond to a text or an email during this meeting (unless the resident physician is on call, in which case the rules for him are relaxed.)

We’re also very old-fashioned in that we have no video games and no TV on the main floor of the house, so if we’re not reading, playing piano, or using computers, we have to interact with one another outside of dinner.  I can’t imagine the multi-media chaos otherwise.

I wonder if the concept of a “family meeting” is more revolutionary in homes in which there’s only one adult in the paid workforce, whereas two-income families have to be organized so that everyone can get out the door the next day.  I can imagine that a number of families with one adult staying at home with children imagine that their lives will be better organized because of the labors of that one adult, but I think what happens is that the stay-at-home adult may end up not functioning as a manager of the household but rather as an employee of the children–taking on tasks that the children could do for themselves, serving as the chauffeur, etc.

There is of course one way in which families can’t be run like businesses:  there’s no such thing as an at-will daughter, son, or partner.  We can’t easily fire the people who aren’t working out.

19 Comments »

19 Responses to “New ideas for running “team family” like a business! (Not.)”

  1. undinenotofgeneralinterest on 09 Feb 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Ha! “I don’t mean to brag, but we have a nightly family meeting we like to call dinner.” Exactly right, Historiann. I didn’t click through to the article, but why do I have the feeling that it mansplains how to accomplish what a lot of us do without bragging about it in the WSJ?

  2. Bardiac on 09 Feb 2013 at 10:34 am #

    I clicked through, and I have to admit, the idea of family “branding” sessions is horrible. (Not only the origin of the metaphor, but the idea that they’ll adopt a patriarchal name which the female children will likely be expected to drop. None of the families profiled seems to use a hyphenated name or anything else to indicate that the female adult member hadn’t changed her name.)

    And the part where one of the men says “we even let the kids criticize us” sounds like he hasn’t spent seven minutes in the company of a cranky three year old, much less a teenager. There is no “let” to young folks criticizing their parents (or even their adoring aunts or babysitters).

    And then there was the amusing bit about one of the fathers who’s started four businesses, and had several fail, and wants to run his family like one of his businesses.

  3. Indyanna on 09 Feb 2013 at 11:23 am #

    I don’t think you can just, like, “adopt the ‘Agile Blueprint’ ™,” though, unless you’re an insider with vested stock options. There’s the paywall, the subscriber fee, the board interview, the mandatory quarterly webinars, the company’s right to call on you as an endorser, an endless stream of temporal and material offsets. I do like the idea of “expensing” that tired “old economy” practice called “dinner,” by casting it as a sort of strategic review session.

  4. koshembos on 09 Feb 2013 at 11:38 am #

    By all means, be a business. Some random suggestions: pay for sex, fire employees, discrimination, lobbying (may be with the neighbors), four letter words galore, scream at the underlings (kids?), etc.

  5. Historiann on 09 Feb 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    HA-ha. Koshembos, you crack me up. But here’s a question you forgot to consider: who bails out your family when it fails? Can families get the same sweetheart deals in bankruptcy court? Can the shareholders (children) sue the CEO and CFO (parents) in the event of bankruptcy or divorce (or sadly both?)

    I just think that the discourse of “innovation” is hilarious when applied to institutions & processes (for example, education and family life) that have time-tested and proved strategies. No innovation or even new technology is required to raise children right: fresh air, contact with nature, books, love, a regular schedule, reliable discipline, and nutritious food. It has worked for centuries. We aren’t that much smarter than our forbears, and they just might have something to teach us.

    I guess I find the notion of time-saving and efficiency applied to family life more than a little creepy. If the notion of “efficiency” helps you get everyone to pick up the house once a week & keep it neat in the name of not wasting time every morning looking for books/homework/musical instruments/school clothing, then fine. If it’s all about the 20-minute meeting so that kids can get back to the XBox and Dad get back to his Twitter feed, then that’s a bummer.

  6. Historiann on 09 Feb 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    IOW, my question is, who or what are these family-life Gradgrinds saving all of their time for, exactly?

  7. Susan on 09 Feb 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    The article offers much to snark at, and like you, we have this thing called dinner which includes lots of conversation about the day, and part of the bedtime ritual is thinking of one happy moment from the day that we want to hold onto in our hearts. But all that said, I have a daughter who really struggles with emotional regulation and the notion of family meetings has really helped make a space where we could talk about how things are going and what needs changing. We don’t have a regularly scheduled family meeting and we don’t have checklists and sometimes we forget about them for months, but my kid–and hence I–have found a space labeled “family meeting” to be a helpfully neutral space for talking about some issues that are hard.

    That article is more than a bit OTT, though. Hard to imagine a family mission statement being useful.

  8. koshembos on 09 Feb 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    By analogy, are we asked to evaluate Rush Limbaugh as a philosopher? Contorting my brain to extend an outrageous idea by analyzing it serves no purpose.

    Warm and functional families do, sometime, require structure, clear priorities, adherence to budget and control. These don’t make them a business or even an organization.

  9. Dame Eleanor Hull on 09 Feb 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    I can’t speak to what happens when agile scrum works well, but (since Sir John’s company uses it, and he often works from home, and thus I hear the meetings on the days we’re both home) I can most certainly attest that done badly it is the most godawful waste of everybody’s time. Conversation at breakfast today went more or less the way of this post and the comments, only with more concentrated loathing.

  10. Feminist Avatar on 09 Feb 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    I wonder whether the families that adopted these ‘business models’ (er, checklists haven’t be used in families before? Chores? Family meetings? Dude, what families have they been part of?) have thought that families aren’t meant to have structure- that things just magically happen? And, they’ve suddenly realised that perhaps communicating, setting boundaries, making plans, is actually necessary for families (or any group of people) to function effectively?

    And, if this is the case, I wonder whether these adults have perhaps been raised by parents who made those structures seem invisible to them as children, perhaps a casualty of a mid-twentieth century ideology that taught (primarily) women to disguise home labour, so that husband and children came home to a ‘haven’, rather than a place of work? Or did they come from really unstructured families, but if so, they’re all clearly middle class, so something must have worked in their homes for them to succeed – which you might think would have made them more reflective about what it took to succeed and less surprised that they need to implement structure?

  11. Janice on 09 Feb 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    I’d love to have a nightly meeting (aka family dinner) but due to work schedules, we get two such events in a week. Still, we manage to make it all work. In this case, our calendar is the secret to success.

    That said, FA is right that someone who treats these type of activities such as talking as a family or conferring on plans as novelties is someone who’s never noticed the work of family life.

  12. quixote on 09 Feb 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    Branding? Family branding? You have got to be kidding me.

    Creepy is not a word with enough tentacles to describe it.

  13. Z on 10 Feb 2013 at 2:02 am #

    This is hilarious. Although I would in fact like to have a business meeting with my family and I am angling to get one.

  14. Susan on 10 Feb 2013 at 7:33 am #

    This just makes my head hurt…

  15. loumac on 10 Feb 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Feminist Avatar, thank you for this: “a mid-twentieth century ideology that taught (primarily) women to disguise home labour, so that husband and children came home to a ‘haven’, rather than a place of work.” You just summed up in a half-sentence exactly what I would have taken a rambling paragraph to try to locate. That is exactly the source of most of my discomfort with the piece. Plus the grotesque family-brand-as-extension-of-the-penis-I-mean-patronym thing. Plus the heteronormativity. Plus the privileging of faith as part of a family brand. I evilly found myself hoping that at least one of the children in the photograph, now branded despite themselves as Christians just like Daddy, will turn out to be a fabulous, self-confident, atheist transgender activist.

  16. grumpy archaeologist on 10 Feb 2013 at 11:39 am #

    I think I read a book about this once, it was called Cheaper by the Dozen, and it was a lot funnier than that article.

    Feminist Avatar’s comment is very insightful. I also don’t understand where the fixation on businesses as the greatest examples of social organization comes from, though – don’t people understand that talking about efficiency isn’t the same as achieving it, or even that efficiency and profit should not be the highest values in all spheres of life? In addition to not recognizing the structure and labor that does exist in most families, there has to be some willful self-delusion going on here in idealizing businesses. Surprise.

  17. Comradde PhysioProffe on 10 Feb 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    This is one species of the genus of horribly toxic neoliberal propaganda that is fuckeing uppe pretty much everything it touches: that all processes, entities, organizations, and institutions should be “run like businesses”. People repeat this gibberish like it is some self-evident axiom of geometry or something.

  18. cgeye on 11 Feb 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Why not *pay a living wage for housekeeping and childcare*, at least? Look how quiet the room got….

    And, of course, when unfair working conditions exist (abuse, unrealistic standards, neglect of children’s health), is the right to strike preserved, or is binding arbitration, with the manager as judge, mandatory?

    and you know this is the flip of “at Amalgamated Widgets, we treat our employees like a family…” sheesh.

  19. cgeye on 11 Feb 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Why do we want families to be treated like businesses, when all the safety nets that help ‘bail out’ families in trouble are being burned away by the business community — that now wants all families to emulate them?

    Isn’t this patriarchal avoidance of all that messy women-and-children stuff, to train his genetic and matrimonial servants to address him in the tones he’s used to at work?

    And when do certain employees get flex-time? Does this approach increase the time non-stay-at-home partners spend in the home, engaged with families, at all?

    And what about disabled family members? Do they get laid off?