I used to be on the “culture committee” at my old job.
It’s funny, isn’t it? The idea that we build a culture, instead of just letting the whatever-happens-to-be culture build us. In a Google search, you’ll find a lot of articles on the “office culture” topic — about throwing parties and communication and team-building: “How to Build a Teamwork Culture,” “10 Ways to Build a Business Culture,” “Building a Culture of Success” and so on.
But what you don’t find much are tips on building a family culture. One that’s built with intention and purpose. One that’s much more important than any business culture — yet is often much more neglected. How often do we organize committee meetings to discuss family engagement? Or long-term satisfaction goals? Or make sure consistent values are communicated and ingrained across our team? How well do we measure our successes — or craft an environment that will best build the culture we desire?
I worked in the advertising industry and there was a lot of emphasis on “environment.” The conversation was: If we want this to be a creative, cool, inspired shop — it has to look creative, cool and inspired. We need fun furniture and great technology. If we want new ideas, we need open spaces to encourage creativity. We need smart speakers to visit frequently and teach us new things. If we want to be different, we need to look different — let’s break down the literal walls for more free-thinking.
And while I worked there I always thought: we spend a lot of time planning, making and measuring in the business world — but what if we crafted our family cultures with the same care? What changes would we make if everything from our decor to our meals, our free-time to our neighborhood, our hobbies to our entertainment were built around the kind of family we want to be (not just what we happen to be around.)
When my husband and I first got married, we knew we shared common values and priorities. We had a plan. Goals. Dreams. But when babies came into the picture — and soon, 3 babies under 4-years-old — we realized that we needed to be more intentional with our family culture, rather than just letting the days drag us on a crazy roller coaster ride. It didn’t take long to see if the environment, goals, and plan aren’t in place — it’s very easy for the chaos to dictate the culture, rather than the culture calming the chaos.
So we did what any successful organization filled with smart, capable people does — we formed a committee. A party of two parents who would draw up a plan for creating our family culture.
“I want land,” Matt said. “Acreage for the kids to roam and climb trees. Enough room for a vegetable garden so they can learn that food doesn’t just come from a store.”
“I want us to cook a lot,” I said, “I want us to appreciate good, healthy food and for us to have a lively, active kitchen.”
“I want a music room,” Matt said. “I want family sing-a-longs and dance parties. I want music instead of TV.”
“I want us to be active,” I said, “To take family walks and runs and play sports together.”
We talked about everything from our house to our free-time. Our hobbies to future schooling options. And if the rule of parenting is to become the person you want your children to be, we knew it needed to start with us. Less glowing technology, more reading and art. Less sitting, more exercising. Less sweets, more veggies. And so on.
As Henry David Thoreau said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” And so it is with us. By realizing that we’re not just shaping what our children do, but who they become.
So far the committee has been living up to their goals — starting with an environment that supports them. We cancelled cable. Bought some land. And are in the process of moving closer to family. We’re eating more veggies, singing more songs, and saying more prayers. And mostly, we’re being more intentional.
After all, if we want our children to help build a better culture for the world — it starts in our own little world, our family.