Often times, I refer to my family as “Team Heritage” and the team with whom I work as “The NIOC Pensacola Family.” Recently, I spent some time with one of my best friends who happens to be a CEO of a multi-national company. As we spoke of leadership, he told me that last year he made it a point to clarify to his colleagues that they were a team, not a family and that they should not confuse the two. Clearly, we used the words differently. As I often do, I spent some time reflecting upon my use of the terms. Was I using the terms incorrectly? What is the real difference between a team and a family?

Let’s start first with the definitions:

Team: A number of people organized to function cooperatively as a group

Family: A group whose members are related in origin, characteristics or occupation; a group of people who are closely related by birth, marriage, or adoption; a group of people living together and functioning as a single household, usually consisting of parents and their children

I’ve participated on many teams in a traditional sense…soccer, football, baseball, etc and I would agree that each experience fell into the definition of “Team”. The various families with whom I am related to varying degrees (i.e. by marriage, by blood, by circumstance) clearly fall into at least one of the definitions of family provided above. But can a team be a family and can a family be a team?

As I observe other families and even parts of my own, I say with great confidence that a family does not necessarily “function cooperatively as a group.” So, though I strongly believe my immediate family is a team, I do recognize that a family may or may not be a team. As I consider the current team with whom I serve at NIOC Pensacola, I will acknowledge that we are not related by birth, marriage (though a couple are), or adoption; we do not live together (unlike deployed units), nor do we function as a single household; however, we are related by characteristics and occupation. Is that enough to call us a family?

Personally, I believe the strongest compliment one could pay to a family is to identify them as a team, a group that cooperatively functions together. Likewise, the nicest thing one could say about a team is that they take care of each other as if they were family…or is it?

I’ve read many a list and offer the following list of attributes describing a “healthy” family:

  • Commitment to each other
  • Spends Time together
  • Open, frequent communication
  • Turns inward in time of crisis
  • Encourages each other
  • Trust

Given those attributes, this period of reflection strengthens my belief that a team can be a family. More than that, the best teams strive to be a family. So, “Team Heritage” and the “NIOC Pensacola Family” will remain part of my vernacular and serve as compliments to the people I care most about in my life. In fact, recent events give me additional reason to say that parts of my work team may, in fact, interact as imperfectly as many a family does. Following certain stereotypes, we are not immune to experiencing the self-serving sister, the cousin who insists on creating conflict, the arrogant uncle who sincerely believes he is far better than he is, and the brother who is content doing just enough to not get kicked out of Mom and Dad’s basement. That said, we are a family and a family of which I am proud to be a part.

  • What do you see as the difference between a team and a family?
  • Can one become another?
  • How might you colaesce a group that exhibits the best of both?