My Family of Origin – My Work Culture

There are basically three relationship patterns in work and life; dependent, independent, and interdependent. Each is shaped by your family of origin and can, consciously or unconsciously, be found in your corporate culture as well.

Check yourself out against each of these styles of relating and determine whether you are in sync with your organizational culture or not.

  1. Dependent (Enmeshed)

In your family, the boundaries between you and other members were often blurred. The dependent parent is overly invested in the welfare or wellbeing of the children. The self-esteem of the parent rises and falls depending on how well the children are doing. Such parents have difficulty letting go of their children.

At work, leaders from such a background often prefer an enmeshed organization. They often call their workplace a family. Conformity is prized above individual initiative. Often the leadership is authoritarian with a preference for top-down decisions. There is constant pressure to “fit in” with the cultural norms of the organization. I heard of one CEO who literally demanded that his employees vote for a certain political party. The culture of such an organization can censor you if you don’t go along with the norms set by the leaders. Employees are expected to be dependent and compliant.

  1. Independent (Disengaged)

In this family system there is a strong demarcation of the boundaries between the individual and the group. Independence of thought and action is prized above conformity. Often the children live far away from the family of origin and tend not to visit very often.

In the workplace, leaders shaped by this type of family system, prize independent thought and give team members a lot of leeway on how they execute on core business initiatives. They leave it to the employee how to get the job done. They do not micro-manage. Quite often employees prefer to work independent of each other and find it difficult to work on teams.

  1. Interdependent (Balanced)

The interdependent family style values both autonomy as well as loyalty to the family unit. There is a balance between individual needs and the needs of the group. Ultimately, this is the more psychologically healthy family system.

Leaders from such families walk the tightrope between I-ness with we-ness in their organization. They give employees a lot of personal freedom but also have clear expectations around the larger issues like the corporate strategy. They have clear expectations for certain business outcomes. There is a balance between team and individual work. Generally these organizations also have a flatter management structure and defer to domain knowledge rather than rank in decision making.

The Challenge

We cannot fully compartmentalize people or workplaces into one category of relating or another. However there are observable behaviors that reveal which of the three relationship systems you prefer and which ones show up at work. Leaders also can bring their family dynamic to work and shape the organizational culture.

Your imperative is to be awake to

  • What type of work culture surrounds you
  • The degree to which it works for you or not
  • Whether or not you should be flexible and adapt to the prevailing corporate culture
  • Any changes you need to make


Your comments on this topic will be highly valued. 




About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to My Family of Origin – My Work Culture

  1. Hello Cedric, once again a very good article.
    All the best and i am looking forward to read your next thought.

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