Mom and dad with their two daughters

by Jenny Mathews, contributing writer 

I’ve said it before: Families are a lot like businesses. Most families use a waterfall business model, where the instructions and objectives are dictated from the parents down to the children. Interestingly, today, many businesses are using more adaptive or “agile” models rather than the top-down, waterfall model. By this, I mean they allow employees to set their own objectives, manage their own time, monitor their own outcomes and provide input on the objectives as a whole.

Author and columnist, Bruce Feiler, wrote, “The Secrets of Happy Families,” and other New York Times best-sellers with a strong focus on families. After searching the globe for the happiest families, Bruce discovered that happy families adapt. They use this more “agile” business model that reverses the waterfall within the family, helping increase the sense of investment each member has in realizing the family mission.

Here’s a basic structure for this kind of family strategy:

  1. Hold an initial (fun) family meeting. At this meeting, each member of the family submits ideas for family goals or a family mission statement.
  2. Do the morning checklist. This has been a valuable addition to our family routine. I have tried every chore chart, trick and system out there. What I underestimated was how un-adaptable most of these methods are. After our initial meeting, I sat my family down and asked them how they thought their daily behaviors would help move us toward our goals. We talked about how to be more organized, healthy, productive, spiritual, etc. Each morning, they list their goals for the day. I usually add their job assignment(s) and any other items myself. As they complete a goal or task, they simply check it off. I had completely underestimated the power of a check mark.
  3. Provide constant feedback at family meetings or counsels. These regular meetings, where you all evaluate your progress and make suggestions for improvement, help keep everyone focused on the bigger picture and keep your kids invested in the process. We ask, “What worked this week and what did not?” This kind of bottom-up idea flow, where your kids give much of the input, develops a sense of accountability and a stronger desire to see these ideals become the family reality.
  4. Establish rewards and consequences for behavior. Allow your kids to help determine their own rewards and consequences. This is an amusing process. Some of my kids’ suggestions raised an eyebrow and some were so simple and obvious. For example, they proposed that if they were guilty of starting an argument or lashing out at another family member, they had to help that person do their job for the day. Perfect, right? They also suggested that if they told a lie they would have to wear a sign saying, “I am a liar” (Not sure we’ll do that one!). Again, the point is that they use the process to learn what works and what doesn’t, adapt and become more self-motivated and involved in the family’s mission.

Want to learn how to create your own family mission statement? Visit our “For the Family” page.