“Tengo Famiglia!” — 5 Leadership Lessons from the Stage … to Your Team

by | Dec 21, 2022 | blog | 0 comments

I just recently finished playing the character, “Nunzio” in a terrific local theater production of Over the River and Through the Woods. It was an awesome part to play. Nunzio is big and bold and full of wisdom that only an elder, wiser grandfather could have. It was a lot of fun to embody “Nunzio” – and come to understand the running theme throughout the script of “Tengo Famiglia!”. 

Early in the play, a character explains to the audience that “Tengo Famiglia” literally means in English, “I support a family” but in this play’s multi-generational Italian-American family, the phrase means so much more. Nunzio explains, “In Italian, it means more, much more – I am a man. I am doing well for my woman and my children. I have a reason for being alive.”

Moving past the sexist patriarchal language of much of the script, the play is rich with lessons in what it takes to have a true famiglia – lessons we can easily use and that speak strongly to the best experience you can hope for your people at work. The best work teams parallel strong famiglias in many ways. 

Are you able to create a sense of family on your teams that will propel and compel them to give their all to their work – and to each other? 

Let’s take a look at what it takes for your own “Tengo a team famiglia!”.  

1. Are you calling your team a “team” and maybe it’s not?

Like “family”, the word “team” is loaded with emotional baggage and unrealistic expectations. Consider whether your team is better labeled and thought of as a “group”. And by the way, ain’t nothing wrong with being a group! A team needs two things: 1) a clear shared goal, and 2) a high level of interdependence. Groups, on the other hand, can work very well together but individuals are not highly interdependent and tend to work on individual assignments only.

Don’t call your family a “family” when it’s not – and don’t call your team a “team” when it’s better thought of as a group. Your people will thank you for the clarification.

2. Is there the ability to give and receive feedback freely on your team?

In the play, the famiglia gives each other feedback – LOUDLY and directly. Of course, it’s the kind of feedback that could be easily construed as disrespectful and ineffective in another context (e.g., “Shut up! You’re supposed to be sick!”), but in this famiglia, the feedback is accepted and understood.

What are the shared agreements your team has about giving and receiving feedback? Are they written down – codified and accepted – not just assumed? If you have ever worked with me, you know I’m a big fan of the SBI framework for giving and receiving feedback. Make sure to check it out – it can be the best way to get your shared agreements in place TODAY. 

3. Are your team’s values CLEARLY identified and respected – with accountability – and are they integral parts of how your team works and acts together?

From the very beginning of the play, the audience is explicitly told that the three values of this family were clear and understood by everyone. They are the “3 F’s” of faith, food, and family. Everything they do and say ultimately comes down to enabling these values … and even in the most challenging of times, these are the values that lead and guide their decisions – no matter how painful.

Spend time with your team identifying the handful of values that will be your north stars in ALL the work you do together. Start with a list like this. Ask everyone to identify their top ten values honestly and transparently, then have them share their reasons why.

Finally, spend the time needed to whittle down all the values selected to the 5-7 that you can all agree on. Test the resiliency of these by identifying challenging scenarios (real or likely) and make sure your chosen values actively shape your decision-making and behaviors. [Pro Tip: Use an external facilitator for this process – so you can be fully participative]

4. What matters most to your team? What will be your team’s legacy at the end of its life?

My character, Nunzio, has some great lines – and at one point he says, “When you get to be a certain age, you realize what matters most is family … what matters is family.”

A great teambuilding exercise is to take your folks through a guided visualization where they envision a few years from now being interviewed by a reporter asking them, “Why was your team so important? What did it accomplish together? What made it tick? What is its legacy?” A future-telling exercise can really shape how you work together in the present. Try it! [Pro tip: Same as above – use an outside facilitator if you can]

5. Teambuilding and training doesn’t happen with just one workshop – it happens as the team system adapts and grows.

In the play, famiglia exists for generations – morphing and evolving – oftentimes with pain and loss, but the intangibles of love and connectedness transcend place and time.

Make sure your mindset of creating famiglia on your team is more of a marathon than a sprint. The culture of your team is one you need to shape and care for over the long run, but it doesn’t need to be grueling and draining! Continually and unapologetically bring respect, joy, and accountability to your team and you’ll go a long way as a “Do as I do” famiglia team leader.

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.