Successful Family

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

If you’re a software developer (any software developers out there?), you’re probably familiar with the philosophy of “agile”. I’m no expert, but I was introduced to the idea by Bruce Feiler’s book Secrets of Happy Families, when he reports on his visit to the Starrs, a family that applies the workflow philosophy to their family.

As I understand it, agile in the workplace takes decision-making and organization from executive management and puts both in the hands of the team doing the actual programming. It utilizes day-to-day personal and team accountability and sets small, incremental goals to move projects forward. Agile’s been incredibly successful in the business world, dramatically improving project completion rates and reducing workplace mistakes.

As I’m turning my attention toward establishing successful routines with our boys at the beginning of a new school year, I’ve been thinking about the Starr’s system. You can read about Feiler’s visit to the Starr family here, as well as in his book. And I recommend reading David and Eleanor’s own pdf paper detailing their family’s experience here.

I’m especially attracted to two elements of the Starr’s routine. The first is the self-directed checklists they’ve established for their kids. No more repeated reminders about grabbing the lunchbox, brushing teeth or remembering your backpack. Kids consult the daily checklist, check something off when it’s completed (feels so good!) and then move on to the next item. This seems like an extremely simple and extremely effective way to make mornings flow more smoothly.

The second aspect to their approach that I’m drawn to is their weekly family meeting. Everyone gathers on Sunday nights and answers three reflective questions:

1.     What went well this week?

2.     What things should be improved next week?

3.     What will we commit to changing this week?

Everyone has a chance to weigh in, and just like agile shifts power from management to the workforce, a certain amount of control and “say” shifts to all members of the family. The Starrs report, “Discussing common dysfunctions, like arguments or raising one’s voice, together as a family has genuine impact on individual behavior.”

The Starrs write, “While increased productivity is a valued outcome of this process, the real value has been in the increased communication between family members. Setting aside time to talk about how we function as a family has been instrumental in improving behaviors and satisfaction with being part of a family team.”

Have you implemented checklists as part of your family’s daily life? And have you had success with family meetings? What other victories in the realm of family routines have you scored?

P.S. — Bruce Feiler also reports on fascinating research regarding child resiliency and knowing family stories. I wrote about that topic here