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Everyone Needs a Role

Define Your Family’s Organisational Chart

Roles are essential in a family. One should ask, however, who or what the combined roles of the family serve? If families don’t have a united mission, family roles will tend to only serve the status of those at the top of the hierarchy, creating hostility and resentment.

Many conservative families in the west and most families in eastern cultures have fairly strict rules around family roles. Confucianism, for instance, is centered around the idea of an ideal family hierarchy, with eldest, middle, and youngest sons and daughters having particular roles and predetermined personality traits. This family hierarchy in China is the central model for the governance of the state. As people tend to know their place in society, this philosophy renders China very strong in some ways, but weak in others. Despite a serious imbalance in the ratio of men to women in their population demographics (due to the one-child policy) with many more men than women, the idea that only men should play the role of farmer has left a whole generation of men single and looking after their parents’ farms, while young women move to the city to study and have trouble finding a man to marry.

The Chinese might benefit from learning from Australia where, for various reasons throughout history, many women have become successful farmers!

One strength that China has over the west is that traditional roles in Chinese society not only serve those at the top of the hierarchy but their civilisation and cultural identity as a whole.

It is ironic that in the west, where we honor freedom and individualism, it is much easier for organisational hierarchies to only serve the individual status of those at the top of the hierarchy.

Where do we find the balance? How do we come together in a united mission that allows flexibility in finding roles that meet the needs of the present while also allowing us all to express and develop our unique talents?

A mother in one family may choose traditional roles and agree to be in charge of meal planning, food shopping and housekeeping, while her husband takes care of car maintenance and accounts. Other families may decide these roles are better allocated differently.

Our suggestion is to have a structure that allows you to remain flexible. Some jobs can be shared but still have basic rules of who is in charge. Cooking, for instance, is something not many people want to have to do all the time. In this case, you may agree that whoever has the idea and gets started in the kitchen is in charge.

If Steve has an idea to make dinner I try and only offer my assistance, but if he takes over when I am cooking I will tell him to get out of my kitchen!

We strongly believe that wherever possible, roles should be chosen depending on each person’s personality type, natural interests and talents, with the unpaid workload in a family distributed as evenly as possible.

Not many people enjoy cleaning. Because of this, cleaning chores should be divided equally among family members. The families housekeeping manager should oversee this work but not be expected to do it all.

Just like a manager in a business, the housekeeping managers authority must be respected when they ask other family members to help. Everyone should be on the housekeeping team.


Roles in a group should be delegated carefully, making sure that family roles support the needs and status of the family as a whole with all members roles holding equal status.

Successful couples often choose to have the lower status jobs, such as cleaning toilets, etc., taken care of by hired help. If the man of the house doesn’t want to pay a cleaner to do these jobs, he might demonstrate valour and humility by taking on these jobs himself.

No one should act as a servant or slave in your home. Lower status jobs should be shared or done as a paid chore.

Paying yourself may sound pointless but if you think it through, it’s not. Usually, we share money in a family, but if a family member does the job of cleaning the bathroom, they should receive a larger share of the spending money. I used to pay myself the same amount we would pay a cleaner to do the bathroom at our place. I felt happier about the standard to which the job was done than if we hired someone. I wasn’t a slave to my family, however, as cleaning the bathroom gave me an extra share of the household spending money.

Children Should Not Dominate the Hierarchy

A real danger in family homes these days is children being given status over their parents. Advertisers have worked hard to turn the family hierarchy upside down. Child-led spending will often see a family’s wealth squandered, with parents ‘groomed’ to keep the peace by giving their children everything they ask for. 

When sitting at the family negotiation table, think of how many corporations are out there lobbying for your children’s vote on spending? This influence needs to be countered with love, understanding, authority and wise counsel.

Children cannot make wise decisions about spending. Their real needs must be considered above fashions and trends. If the clothes they need to ‘fit in’ at school are going to break the family budget, it might be time to look for a more down to earth place to live.

Everyone in the family should express their needs in the family decision-making process (DMP) but parents need the ultimate authority to decide what are real needs—and what are wants—and make creative decisions on how those needs should be met.

It is also desirable that children learn that money generally comes from being in service to others and that taking care of yourself pays in different ways.

Children of all ages need to be assigned roles and corresponding chores. Our daughter Julie, for instance, was once my assistant housekeeper, and Ollie his father’s assistant car maintenance manager. Older children may have management roles of their own.

Even though Julie and I were housekeeping managers, everyone in the family is a cleaner!

Action Point: Allocating roles can be a great time to learn about your family member’s personality types. Big corporations would never place a person in a role without knowing this information about them.

The best tools we have found are here:

TypeCoach will give you invaluable information about yourself and your family. It will also offer each family member short video tutorials teaching them the top five secrets of success that people with their personality type should focus on. TypeCoach also offers an amazing online type-to-type tool that will give you specific advice on how to better manage each and every family member according to your personality type.

Family members roles should be chosen depending on each person’s talents and personality type and be given time to learn while settling into a new position.

Settling Disagreements

When family members have problems with each other, the first thing psychology professionals teach is setting boundaries.

Setting boundaries is too often considered an act of confrontation, punishment, defiance or resistance; a person demanding respect with not much of an idea how to get it.

This misunderstanding of what boundaries are can lead a person to take actions that may only produce defiance.

Boundaries are better understood as well-defined roles of authority and responsibility in a group’s organisational chart. Checking where these roles might need to be better defined, will quickly end most conflict.

Consider the following:

  1. Has everyone in your family accepted and understood their role and responsibilities? Does everyone know in clear terms what is expected of them? Do they feel confident that what is expected of them is within their capabilities and best interests?
  2. Is everyone clear on the lines of authority, knowing who they answer to for each responsibility, and where each family member sits in the hierarchy?
  3. Are there well-defined standards, procedures, policies and limits, providing room for individual style and taste but with enough structure for growth and achievement?
  4. Is your working environment clean and well-organised, where everyone can find things they need without asking?
  5.  Is there a consensus-based decision-making process in place, with well defined ‘rules’ where everyone’s needs are considered when important decisions are made?

If so, everyone’s ‘boundaries’ should be well-defined.

Any conflict in a group should result in the family leaders making sure that the five points above have been established and well-defined.

A few Suggested Roles

Action Point: Here are some suggested positions/portfolios to help you begin allocating positions:

Meal Planning and Procurement—Creates menus and oversees food shopping.
>Head Chef—In charge of all kitchen operations.
>>Sous Chef/Kitchen Hand—Food prep and cleaning; may make dietary/menu suggestions to the chef.

Housekeeping Manager—Oversees all domestic cleaning, decorating and refurbishing; allocates housekeeping roles and responsibilities to all family members.
>Assistant Housekeeping Manager—Assists with house cleaning and supervises chores with younger family members.
>>Cleaners—Each family member should be responsible for a list of duties taking care of their own room/clothes/belongings. These should be allocated by the Housekeeping manager and supervised by the assistant.

Laundry and Wardrobe Manager—Responsible for keeping clothes clean, organised and in good repair. (I designed and built a clothes-drying rack when this was my portfolio so things could be hung up and dried on their hangers.)
>Laundry and Wardrobe Assistant Manager—Assists drying folding, etc., and may have input about suggested wardrobe upgrades.

Car Maintenance Manager—Checks oil, water, coolant and tire air pressure in all cars; keeps cars’ service histories up to date, and interior and exterior clean; decides when cars should be sold and upgraded; keeps garage or tool shed clean and organised.
>Assistant Car Maintenance Manager—Assists with all above duties, making sure cars are clean and available for other family members’ use as required. Older children may act as valet in this position.

Contract Administrator—Deals with contracts for all insurances and warranties on household assets and appliances; manages repairs and upgrades.

Communications & AV Technician—Responsible for set-up and maintenance of family’s audio-visual gear, mobile phones and computers.

Financial Roles:

As it is important that children are involved in learning these aspects of good family governance you might include a number of financial positions. Responsibly run financial roles in your family will also take the stress out of other areas.

Accounts Manager—Pays bills and collects debts, and may also devise family budgets (for joint approval); deals with project funding for all agreements; must be accurate and transparent in making books/budgets available to their partner.
>Accounts Admin Assistant—Assists accounts manager at tax time; is trained backup for assistance in dealing with managing cash-flow and paying bills if accounts manager is sick or detained.

Investments Manager—Manages all investment projects.
>Assistant Investments Manager—Assists with all investment projects.

Core Business Manager—Manages and keeps track of all income streams coming into the family, from salaries or wages to garage sales, weekend market stalls and younger members’ paper run or part-time jobs. Keeps track of time and resources spent on income-generating projects.

This person’s position should ensure that no one person in the family be allowed to let their projects (or problems) consume an unfair proportion of the family’s time and money.

Our business mentor, James, calls this position, managing ‘the mosh pit’.

For instance, does Dad’s job contribute one-third of the overall family income but, as Dad is spending a lot of time talking to the family about his work problems, his job ends up taking up more than half of the family’s time in discussions and negotiations? If so, the core business manager may assist Dad to make sure available resources (including time) are being managed more productively.

This person may also be responsible for advising on good core business opportunities, e.g. local jobs, programmes, etc., that provide income opportunities with little ‘drag’ on family time and resources.

This role may sound unusual but in some families it is vital. Because Steve and I work from home and manage a number of contracts, we used to pay someone external to the family to administer this position. This ensured that everyone’s projects and jobs got attention and took stress off us worrying.

If one family member has problems, projects or a job that is sucking an unfair amount of time and money from family life, it may pay to ask an older family member or friend to take on this role. It would also be a great opportunity to introduce a business coach or trainer to the family to help everyone learn how to operate more productively and efficiently.

Our core business manager in the past was studying business at a university in Australia. He had a big family back in Pakistan where his father is a factory owner, so our friend was used to business and family life being combined.

He helped us in the earlier days of us rebuilding our family to make sure everyone’s needs were equally addressed in family meetings. As we have got better at this Steve and I are now able to manage this role together.

If your local university offers internships and you run a family business, see if you can apply for the programme. Looking through candidates’ CVs should help you find the right person.

The core business manager may also fill other roles…

Leveraged Income Manager—On the lookout for leveraged income opportunities for all family members, royalties, directorships, scholarships, honorary positions, rental investments, shares and bonds etc. May require study, but would be a valuable challenge for the right person.

Research and Development Consultant—Sounding board for all of the family’s research projects that may eventually end up generating income.

Sit down with your partner now and figure out the basics of how you think the roles & responsibilities in your family should be allocated. Each role should include a list of responsibilities that the role entails. Managers should be encouraged to develop their own procedures and instructions for their role to be kept in a file that might include things such as usernames and passwords, recipes, instructions for technical jobs etc. The final decision on allocating roles, and what the responsibilities and procedures are for each, should be made together as a family.


Now that you have figured out your family’s roles and responsibilities, how will everyone be rewarded for these roles?

Just like any other business, if the job has not been completed the family member should not be rewarded.

It is good that children learn that money generally comes from working in service to others and that taking care of yourself pays in ways other than money.

If your son washes his clothes, for instance, that might be something he gets certain privileges for (using the car, having friends over etc.) but if he washes other family members’ clothes, he should receive an allowance for that chore.

Ideally, you and your partner should decide together how you think responsibilities should be rewarded, before making the final decisions as a family.

Kim is the author of seven books on the topic of relationships and emotional intelligence.

A prolific multi-media content innovator, Kim has created and shared a library of articles and multi-media educational tools including radio shows,
movies and poetry on 'The NC Marriage', and 'The Love Safety Net'.

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