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10 Business Strategies to Organize Your Family Life

Tried-and-true management tips for busy households.

By Patrick Lencioni
Pot on a stoveCoral Von Zumwalt

About 11 years ago, two big things happened in my life: My wife and I started a family, and I launched a consulting firm. For years I was much more successful at running my company than managing our family―probably because I was taking specific steps to improve my business, then going home and winging it.
Well, a few years ago, it occurred to me that this made no sense, and that my family was in fact an organization, too―the most important one in my life. That realization was probably provoked by an innocuous (or so I thought) comment to my wife: “You know, honey, if my clients ran their companies the way we run this family, they’d go out of business.”
I’ll spare you the gory details of her response and just tell you that we eventually decided to figure out whether the tools and concepts I applied with my clients might help our home run more smoothly. I’m here to report that they absolutely did and might help you, too. (Don’t worry: None involve persuading a 10-year-old to endure the agony of a performance review.)
 1. Identify your core values. Companies define their core values because they provide a great framework for making all kinds of decisions. To apply this idea to your family, think about what common traits each spouse admires in the other. One of the things I love about my wife is that she is unafraid to speak her mind or stand up for her beliefs. We wanted to pass that trait on to our four sons, so we made it a core value. (Our others are creativity and passion.) Then, when one of the boys was sent to the principal’s office for defending a classmate who was being bullied, we made it clear that he should be proud that he had stood up for a friend.
 2. Establish a single top priority. If everything is important, nothing is. Too many companies fail because they spread their time and energies too thin. Answer this question: “In addition to our day-to-day responsibilities, if we accomplish one big thing as a family in the next few months, what should it be?” And then work on it. It could be anything from “Help Dad get healthy” to “Spend more time together as a family at home.”
 3. Keep your values and top priority visible. You don’t need an engraved plaque to remind you of what’s important. But it’s good to have a ready reference. My wife and I were out on a date around the time we were coming up with our family’s list of values and top priority. She borrowed a waiter’s pen and wrote them on the paper tablecloth. After dinner she neatly tore off that section and stuck it to our oven, where we could see it every day.
 4. Don’t make snap decisions. Companies (and families) tend to take on commitments out of peer pressure or guilt, before they understand what’s involved. Often it’s not a single big project, but the dinner date, bake sale, and sleepover that all add up to make a family frantic. Which leads us to number 5.

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