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Everyone Needs a Role

Define Your Family’s Organisational Chart

Roles are essential in any organisation of people. To get the best roles in place to serve the group’s interests, first, we must ask who or what the organisation serves.

If families don’t have a united mission, family roles will only serve the status of those at the top of the family’s hierarchy, producing little but hostility and resentment.

Many conservative families in the West–and most families in Eastern cultures–have clear rules around family roles.

Confucianism, for instance, is centred around an ideal family hierarchy, with eldest, middle, and youngest sons and daughters having particular roles and predetermined personality traits.

This same Confucian family hierarchy is the model for state governance.

As people know their place in Chinese society, this philosophy renders China very strong in some ways but weak in others. For instance, despite a severe 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 be farmers has left a whole generation of men single and looking after their parents’ farms. In contrast, young women move to the city to study, and with millions more men than women in the country, these women still have trouble finding a man in the city to marry.

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

One strength China has over the West is that traditional roles in Chinese society do not serve those at the top of the hierarchy but their entire civilisation and culture.

Ironically, in the West, where we honour freedom and individualism, it is more common for organisational hierarchies to only serve the status of those at the top.

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 allowing us 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 less traditionally.

We suggest having an organisational structure that allows you to remain flexible. Some jobs can be shared but still have basic rules of who is in charge. For instance, not many people want to have to cook all the time. In this case, you may agree that whoever has the idea and gets started in the kitchen automatically becomes the person in charge.

If Steve has an idea to make dinner, I try and only offer my assistance, but if he takes over when I cook, 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 family’s housekeeping manager should oversee this work but not be expected to do all of it.

Like a manager in a business, the housekeeping manager’s 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, ensuring that family roles support the needs and status of the family, with all member’s roles holding equal status and respect.

Successful couples often choose to have lower-status chores, 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 humility by taking these jobs on himself. This is a respected tradition in Japan.

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

Paying yourself may sound pointless, but not if you think it through. 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 family 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 budget.

Children Should Not Dominate the Hierarchy

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

When sitting at the family negotiation table, consider how many corporations are lobbying for your children’s vote on spending. This influence must be countered with love, understanding, authority and wise counsel.

Children cannot make wise spending decisions. Their real needs must be considered above fashions and trends. If the clothes they need to ‘fit in’ at school will 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). Still, parents need the ultimate authority to decide what their children’s real needs are—and what are only wants—and make creative decisions on how those needs can and should be met.

Children of all ages need to be assigned roles and corresponding chores. Our daughter Julie, for instance, was once my assistant housekeeper, and Ollie was 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 was 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.

You can find many tools online to assess your family’s personality types.

This will give you invaluable information about yourself and your family. It will also offer each family member secrets of success that people with their personality type should focus on.

Family members’ roles should be chosen depending on each person’s talents and personality type and given time to learn while settling into meeting their family responsibilities.

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 little idea of how to get it.

This misunderstanding of boundaries 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 must be better defined will quickly end most conflicts.

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? Are they confident that what is expected 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 that they are respected in the hierarchy?
  3. Are there well-defined standards, procedures, policies, and limits that provide room for individual style and taste but 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 a consensus-based decision-making process in place, with well-defined ‘rules’ where everyone’s needs are considered when making important decisions?

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.

A Few Suggested Roles

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 including taking care of their own room/clothes/belongings. Other duties 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 tyre 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 the above duties, ensuring 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, computers and modems.

Financial Roles:

As children should be involved in learning these aspects of good family governance, you might include several financial positions. Responsibly running financial roles in your family will also take the stress off 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 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 runs or part-time jobs. Keeps track of time and resources spent on income-generating projects.

This person’s position should ensure that no one in the family lets 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’.

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 several contracts, we used to pay someone external to the family to administer this position. This ensured that everyone’s projects and jobs got adequate attention.

If one family member’s problems, projects, or job 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 an excellent opportunity to introduce a business coach or trainer to the family to help everyone learn how to operate more productively and efficiently. In the past, our core business manager was studying business at a university in Australia. He had a big family in Pakistan, where his father was a factory owner, so our friend was used to combining business and family life.

He helped ensure everyone’s needs were equally addressed in our first family meetings. Steve and I can now manage this role together as our leadership skills have improved.

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 might also fill other roles. . .

Leveraged Income Manager—Should look for leveraged income opportunities for all family members, investments, royalties, directorships, scholarships, honorary positions, rental investments, shares and bonds. It may require study, but it would be a valuable challenge for the right person.

Research and Development Consultant—Sounding board for income streams in development that may generate income in future. Our family usually has at least two of these in development.

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 duties that the role entails. Managers should be encouraged to develop procedures and instructions for their role to be kept in a file that might include usernames and passwords, recipes, instructions for technical jobs, etc. The final decision on allocating roles, responsibilities, and procedures 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?

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

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, this might earn him certain privileges, like using the car, having friends over, etc.; washing other family members’ clothes, however, would deserve an allowance.

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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