At 7 p.m. on a Sunday in Hidden Springs, Idaho, the six members of the Starr family were sitting down to the highlight of their week: the family meeting. The Starrs are a typical American family, with their share of everyday family issues. David is a software engineer; his wife, Eleanor, takes care of their four children, ages 10 to 15. One of the children has Asperger syndrome, another ADHD; one tutors math on the near side of town; one practices lacrosse on the far side. 'We were living in complete chaos,' Eleanor said.
Like many parents, the Starrs were trapped between the smooth-running household they aspired to have and the exhausting, earsplitting one they actually lived in. 'I was trying the whole 'love them and everything will work out' philosophy,' she said, 'but it wasn't working. 'For the love of God,' I finally said, 'I can't take this any more.' '
What the Starrs did next was surprising. Instead of consulting relatives or friends, they looked to David's workplace. They turned to a cutting-edge program called agile development that has rapidly spread from manufacturers in Japan to startups in Silicon Valley. It's a system of group dynamics in which workers are organized into small teams, hold daily progress sessions and weekly reviews.
As David explained, 'Having weekly family meetings increased communication, improved productivity, lowered stress and made everyone much happier to be part of the family team.'
When my wife and I adopted the agile blueprint in our own home, weekly family meetings with our then-5-year-old twin daughters quickly became the centerpiece around which we organized our family. The meetings transformed our relationships with our kids岸and each other. And they took up less than 20 minutes a week.
The past few years have seen a rapid erosion of the wall that once divided work and family. New technologies allow busy employees to check in with one another during 'family time' and allow busy parents to interact with their kids during 'work time.' But as close as the two worlds have grown, they've rarely exchanged ideas. Parents hoping to improve their families have been stuck with stale techniques from shrinks, self-help gurus and other 'family experts.' Meanwhile, in workplaces across America, breakthrough ideas have emerged to make teams run more smoothly.
A new generation of parents is now taking solutions from the workplace and transferring them home. From accountability checklists to family branding sessions, from time-shifting meals to more efficient conflict resolution, families are finally reaping the benefits of decades of groundbreaking research into group dynamics. The result is a bold new blueprint for happy families.
Surveys show that both parents and children list stress as their No. 1 concern. A chief source of that stress is change. Just as kids stop teething, they start throwing tantrums; just as they stop needing us to give them a bath, they need our help dealing with online hazing. No wonder psychologist Salvador Minuchin said that the most important characteristic of families is being 'rapidly adaptable.' So has anyone figured out how?
In 1983, Jeff Sutherland was a technologist in New England when he began noticing how dysfunctional software development was. Companies followed the 'waterfall model,' in which executives issued ambitious orders that their harried programmers struggled to meet. Most projects failed. Mr. Sutherland set out to design a more agile system, in which ideas would not just flow down from the top but also percolate up from the bottom. Today, agile development is used in 100 countries and is transforming management suites.
Inevitably, fans of agile started applying the techniques to their families. 'I began to see a lot of people using agile at home, especially with their children,' Mr. Sutherland told me. Blogs popped up; manuals were published.
A central plank is accountability. Teams use 'information radiators'岸large, public boards on which people mark their progress. The Starrs, for instance, created a morning checklist of chores, which each child is responsible for ticking off. On the morning I visited, Eleanor drank coffee and inquired about the day, while the kids fixed lunch, loaded the dishwasher and fed the dog. When I protested that my own girls would never be so compliant, she said, 'That's what I thought. I told David, 'Leave your work out of my kitchen.' But I was wrong.'
The week that my wife and I introduced our own morning checklist, we cut parental screaming in half. But the real breakthrough was the family meeting. Following the lead of the Starrs and others, we ask three questions, all adapted from agile: 1) What went well in our family this week? 2) What didn't go well? 3) What will we agree to work on this week? Everyone offers answers, then we vote on two problem areas to focus on.
Three years later, what have we learned?
First, empower the children. The key to the meetings is to let the kids pick their own rewards and punishments. Ours girls turn out to be little Stalins, so we often have to dial them back. Significant brain research reinforces this strategy. Children who plan their own time, set weekly goals and evaluate their own work become more internally driven and have greater self-control.
Second, parents aren't invincible. Our instinct as parents is to build ourselves up, but abundant research shows that this type of top-down leadership is not the best model. Effective teams aren't dominated by a single leader; all members contribute. We even let the kids criticize us.
Finally, build in flexibility. Parents often create a few overarching rules and stick to them. This assumes we can anticipate every problem. We can't. The agile family philosophy embraces the ever-changing nature of families today and builds in a system to adapt to each new phase.
But if agile is good at making families more adaptable, what about the flip side: teaching children core values? Here again, a simple idea from the business world offers parents a clear path.
David Kidder is a serial entrepreneur, an author and the father of three boys. 'If I've learned anything by starting four companies,' he told me, 'it's that young companies typically fail because you have a charismatic leader with a bunch of beliefs, but those beliefs don't translate to the rest of their company.'
Mr. Kidder created a company playbook, with everything from the purpose of the organization to how to run meetings. 'Why not create a similar playbook for my family?' he wondered. The Kidder belief board has a one-sentence manifesto. 'The purpose of our lives is to contribute our unique, God-given gifts to have an extraordinarily positive impact on the lives of others and the world.' It then lists a dozen core values, from faith to knowledge.
Jim Collins, the author of 'Good to Great,' says that great organizations 'preserve the core and stimulate progress.' The same applies to families, he told me. While you need to keep introducing new ideas, you also need to identify the bedrock principles you believe in. One way to do that, he said, is to do what other organizations do: create a mission statement.
Mr. Collins coached my family through creating a mission statement of our own. In effect, we used contemporary branding techniques to identify what is most important to us. We started with the familial equivalent of a corporate retreat, a pajama party with our daughters, during which we voted on a list of values. Next we answered questions about what we liked most about our family. Finally we settled on a list of 10 core affirmations. ('We are travelers not tourists,' 'We don't like dilemmas; we like solutions.')
What are the benefits of such a statement? A central finding of recent research is that parents should spend less time worrying about what they do wrong and more time focusing on what they do right. The family mission statement is a clear way to articulate what your family does right. It also creates a touchstone. When one of our daughters got into a spat with a classmate, we asked her which of our core values seemed to apply. 'We bring people together?' she said. Suddenly we had a way into the conversation.
I grew up in a family business. Every Saturday morning, I drove with my grandfather to a one-story office building where I learned to type, file and take payments. But while those skills have proven valuable to me, I realized that I wasn't passing them on to my kids.
Studies show that parents do a lame job of talking to their kids about money, but that doesn't mean we're not imparting our values. If kids see their parents worrying about money or being materialistic, they develop similar feelings. If they see their parents being responsible, children learn those habits as well.
A new crop of entrepreneurial parents is trying to revolutionize how families handle money. Websites like Tykoon and FamZoo aim to bring 21st-century tools to the 19th-century invention of allowance. They offer pots for saving, spending and giving away, along with artificially high interest rates.
Bill Dwight, a former Oracle ORCL -0.34% executive and the founder of FamZoo, said that the goal is to promote conversations. 'Financial literacy is not, 'Do you know how a stock works?' ' he told me. 'It's about understanding the concept of constraints. I've advised startups over the years, and one reason they're so innovative is they're constrained.'
Family financial adviser Byron Trott agrees. He is the managing partner of BDT Capital Partners, which counsels many wealthy families. Warren Buffett called him 'the only banker I trust.' Mr. Trott told me that the country's top business minds often fail at the simplest tasks with their children. His advice:
1) Show them the money. Families depend too much on osmosis, he said. 'I told one of the richest women in America recently that she had to talk openly with her children. She didn't want to burden them with the truth, but burdening them with ignorance is really much worse.'
2) Take off the training wheels. Mr. Trott chided me for not allowing my children to make mistakes with their money. 'But what if they drive into the ditch?' I said. 'It's better to bike into the ditch with a $6 allowance,' he said, 'than a $60,000 salary or a $6 million inheritance.'
3) Put them to work. Though there is a lot of vagueness about kids and money, the research is clear that part-time jobs are great for kids. 'The most successful adults I know were all involved in business at a young age,' Mr. Trott said. 'Warren thinks I'm successful because I had a lawn-mowing business, a clothing store. If you really want your daughters to understand money, have them open a lemonade stand.'
All families have conflict. The ones who handle it smarter are more likely to succeed. Conflict resolution didn't exist as a field when Dr. Spock reigned, but a generation of scholars has introduced new techniques to resolve showdowns, from nuclear-arms pacts to general strikes. These techniques also turn out to help when deciding who gets to wear the fuzzy socks this week.
William Ury, co-founder of Harvard's Program on Negotiation and co-author of 'Getting to Yes,' told me that since families are no longer top-down, new rules have to be brokered all the time. 'Ours is the first generation where continuous negotiation is the norm,' he said.
Josh Weiss, a prot谷g谷 of Mr. Ury, uses a simplified version of the Harvard blueprint for resolving conflict with his three daughters. When fights erupt, he coaches his daughters to step away, calm down and then return with alternative solutions.
'I believe these strategies may be better suited for a family than a workplace,' Mr. Weiss told me. While in the workplace, 'you can avoid conflict,' he said, 'at home, you can't. You'll end up getting divorced or becoming estranged from your kids.'
Other problem-solving techniques honed in companies can also help families, especially extended families. We adopted a few in our family to address questions like whether my mom should buy long-term health insurance and where to hold our family reunion. Some counterintuitive tips:
First, have as many people in the discussion as possible. The conventional wisdom is wrong: Too few cooks spoil the broth. Abundant research has shown that groups, especially if they include nonexperts, are better at making decisions than individuals.
Second, vote first, talk later. As the psychologist Daniel Kahneman points out in 'Thinking Fast and Slow,' you'll reach a smarter conclusion if everyone expresses their views at the outset, before anyone has spoken. Otherwise, those who speak first will have too much influence.
Finally, have two women present. An executive at Google GOOG +0.28% tipped me off to a 2010 study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon and MIT that showed that groups with a higher proportion of females make more effective decision. Studies of corporate boards and federal judges concur. Groups with more women are more sensitive to others and reach compromise more quickly.
A key finding of positive psychology is that happiness depends in large measure on relationships. Our families are our primary relationships, yet we spend almost no time trying to improve them. As Eleanor Starr told me in Idaho, 'You have your job, you work on that. Your have your garden, your hobbies, you work on those. Your family requires just as much work, if not more.'
Today, we have more knowledge than ever before to help make that work easier, much of it from America's leading organizations. The task for parents is to find time to implement it. As Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar wrote in his book 'Happier': 'There is one easy step to unhappiness岸doing nothing.' The opposite also holds: The easiest path to happiness is to do something. In the end, this may be the most enduring lesson of all. What's the secret to a happy family?
This essay is adapted from Mr. Feiler's book, 'The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More,' which will be published on Feb. 19. His previous books include 'The Council of Dads' and 'Walking the Bible.'
Erin Patrice O'Brien for The Wall Street Journa
國 愛達荷州隱泉鎮(Hidden Springs)，周日晚上七點，斯塔爾(Starr)一家的六名成員坐下來，享受本周最精華的時刻：家庭會議。斯塔爾一家是一個典型的美國家庭，當然也 會有美國家庭經常需要面對的各種日常瑣事。戴維(David)是一名軟件工程師，妻子埃莉諾(Eleano)負責照顧四個孩子，年齡從10歲到15歲不 等，其中一個患有埃斯博格綜合症（Asperger，一種類似於典型孤獨症的交互性社交活動性質異常），另一個患有多動症(ADHD)，第三個在附近給人 輔導數學，第四個在鎮子很遠的一頭練習長曲棍球。埃莉諾說：“我們家整天都是亂糟糟的。”
斯 塔爾一家接下來做的事情令人驚奇。他們沒有向鄰居或朋友討教經驗，而是把目光投向戴維工作的地方。戴維的公司正在實施一個名為“敏捷開發”(agile development)的前沿項目，借助“群體動力學”(group dynamics)的運作體系，員工組成一個個小組，每天討論工作進度，每周進行回顧，從而形成一種自生動力。這種做法已在日本制造企業和硅谷新興企業中 快速傳播開來，而斯塔爾一家打算將其搬到家中。
近 幾年來，矗立在工作和家庭之間的壁壘正在快速瓦解。新技術讓忙碌的員工們可以在工作之余相互溝通，也能讓忙碌的父母們在上班時有機會和孩子互動交流。然 而，盡管工作和家庭這兩大陣營正在不斷接近，它們彼此之間卻很少取長補短。希望改善家庭關系的父母們只能選擇一些來自心理醫生、自助組織和“家庭專家”的 陳舊建議；但與此同時，美國各地的工作場所都湧現出不少能讓團隊協作更加順暢的突破性理念。
調 查顯示，父母和孩子都把家庭壓力列為最大的困撓。這種壓力的主要來源是變化。孩子剛過換牙期，就開始變得喜歡亂發脾氣；父母剛剛不需要給他們洗澡，就需要 幫他們處理網絡欺凌。難怪心理學家薩爾瓦多•米紐慶(Salvador Minuchin)說過，家庭最重要的一個特點就是“快速適應能力”。那麼，我們該如何去適應呢？
1983年，傑夫•薩瑟蘭德(Jeff Sutherland)還是新英格蘭地區的一名技術人員，他開始注意到軟件開發是一個功能紊亂的過程。軟件企業遵循“瀑布模型”(waterfall model)的項目開發架構，由主管下達頗具挑戰性的任務目標，程序員則疲於奔命地應付這些需求，大多數軟件開發項目都以失敗告終。由此，薩瑟蘭德開始設 計一套更為敏捷的軟件項目開發體系，創意和目標不僅來源於自上而下的傳達，也來源於自下而上的滲透。如今，“敏捷開發”已在100個國家廣泛使用，並正在 改變整個的管理工具體系。
敏 捷方法的核心要素是責任制。團隊使用“信息輻射器”(information radiator)來指導工作，那是一塊很大的書寫板，公開記錄每個人的工作進度。受此啟發，斯塔爾一家創建了一份清晨工作一覽表，每個孩子都有責任完成 自己份內的工作，然後在表上打勾。一天早上我造訪他們家，埃莉諾一邊喝咖啡，一邊討論今天的日程安排；與此同時，孩子們在準備午餐，把餐盤放進洗碗機，喂 狗吃東西。當我抱怨自己的女兒們從不這麼聽話時，埃莉諾回答：“我以前也這麼想，我對戴維說‘別把工作帶到廚房裡來。’但是，我錯了。”
在 我和妻子創建了自己家的清晨工作一覽表的那個星期，我們對孩子的吼叫次數減少了一半。不過，真正的突破是家庭會議。借鑒敏捷方法，我們模仿斯塔爾和其他家 庭的做法，在家庭會議上討論三個問題：一、這個星期我們家發生了什麼好事情？二、發生了什麼不好的事情？三、將採取什麼改進措施？每個家庭成員都提出自己 的意見，然後投票確定兩個需要著力解決的問題領域。
戴 維•基德爾(David Kidder)是一位連續創業家和作家，也是三個男孩的父親。基德爾對我說：“如果說我從創辦四家公司中學到了一點東西的話，那就是年輕企業的夭折，往往 是因為企業領導者很有個人魅力，有不少理想和信念，但這些東西很難轉化為整個企業的理念和信念。”
基德爾撰寫了一本企業經營指南，從宏觀 的組織目標一直到如何開會的細節都有闡述。在此過程中，他問自己：“為什麼不給我的家庭寫一本類似的指南？”基德爾家裡的信念白板上寫了這麼一句話：“我 們的生活意義在於貢獻自己獨特的、上帝賜予的天分，為他人的生活和整個世界帶來不同尋常的積極影響。”隨後白板上列出十幾個核心價值觀，從信念信仰到知識 追求不等。
《從優秀到卓越》(Good to Great)一書的作者吉姆•柯林斯(Jim Collins)曾經說過，一個偉大的組織能夠“保持核心理念並刺激進步。”柯林斯告訴我，這個原則也適用於家庭。一方面，你需要不斷引入新的想法；另一 方面，你要確定家庭信奉的基本準則。他說，做到這一點的一個方法就是向其他組織的做法學習：發布一個家庭使命宣言。
柯林斯手把手地指導我 如何創建家庭使命宣言。事實上，我們應用了現代的品牌化管理技巧來確定什麼對我們來說是最重要的。首先，我們和女兒們一起舉辦了一個類似於企業聚會的睡衣 派對，對一組核心價值觀進行投票。接下來，我們共同討論自己最喜歡這個家庭的哪些東西。最後，我們確定了10個核心價值觀。（如“我們是旅行者，而不是遊 客。”“我們不喜歡左右為難；我們喜歡解決方案。”）
擁有這樣一個使命宣言有何好處？近期研究的一個重要發現是，父母應該少花時間擔心自 己做錯了什麼，而應該多花時間關注自己做對了什麼。一個家庭使命宣言能夠清晰闡述這個家庭認為什麼是對的，也是檢驗實踐的試金石。當我的一個女兒與同學發 生口角時，我們問她這件事適用於哪一個家庭核心價值觀。她說：“我們要與別人親近？”突然之間，我們就有了一個很好的談話切入點。
FamZoo 網站的創始人比爾•德維特(Bill Dwight)曾在甲骨文公司(Oracle)擔任高管，他說這個網站旨在增強父母與子女之間的交流。“培養孩子的財務意識並不是問‘你知道股票是怎麼回 事嗎？’而是要理解財務約束的概念。我為新創企業提供多年的咨詢服務，這些企業之所以能夠創新的原因之一，就在於他們明白約束自己的邊界所在。”
家 庭理財顧問拜倫•特羅特(Byron Trott)同意這個說法。他是德同資本公司(DT Capital Partners)的執行合伙人，該公司為許多富有家庭提供咨詢服務，沃倫•巴菲特(Warren Buffett)稱他為“我唯一信任的銀行家”。特羅特告訴我，美國頂尖的商界領袖也經常在子女教育的簡單問題上跌跟頭。對此，他提出以下幾點建議：
3、 讓子女體驗工作。雖然在子女和金錢的問題上還有很多模棱兩可的觀點，但有一點是明確的：讓孩子打些零工很有好處。特羅特說：“我認識的最成功的成年人都是 在少年時期就開始參與商業經營。沃倫認為我是成功的，因為我小時候攢錢買割草機為別人割草賺錢，還開過一家服裝店。如果你真想提高女兒們的財商，那就讓她 們擺個賣檸檬水的小攤。”
每一個家庭都會發生爭執。善於處理爭執的家庭才更有可能成功。雖然斯波克博士(Dr. Spock)的育兒經大行其道，但如何化解家庭沖突並非一個專門的研究領域。好在整整一代的學者已經告訴我們許多解決對峙的新技巧，從削減核武公約到緩和 大罷工等等。這些技巧在決定哪個孩子本周能穿絨毛襪子時也具有指導意義。
威廉•尤裡(William Ury)是哈佛大學(Harvard)談判課程的共同發起人，也是《毫不退讓地贏得談判──哈佛談判法》(Getting to Yes)一書的作者之一。尤裡告訴我，現代家庭已不再呈現等級森嚴的結構，因此需要採取新規則來處理家庭事務。尤裡說：“我們這代人將是把家庭內部持續談 判視為常態的第一代人。”
第 二，先投票，後討論。心理學家丹尼爾•卡納曼(Daniel Kahneman)在《思考，快與慢》(Thinking Fast and Slow)一書中這樣寫道：“在有人開口說話之前，先讓每個人表達自己的態度，這樣能達成更明智的結論。否則的話，那些先開口說話的人就會對其他人產生過 多影響。”
最後，讓兩名女性參與進來。谷歌公司(Google)一位高管指點我去看卡內基梅隆大學(Carnegie Mellon)和麻省理工學院(MIT)的學者在2010年聯合發布的一份報告。其研究結果表明，女性比例較高的小組在決策方面更有效。對公司董事會和聯 邦法官的類似研究也驗証了這一結論。女性比例較高的小組對他人更具同情心，也能在談判中更快地達成妥協。
積極心理學(positive psychology)的一項重要發現是，幸福在很大程度上取決於和諧的關系。家庭是我們最基本的關系，但我們幾乎不投入任何時間來試圖改善家庭關系。正 如愛達荷州的埃莉諾•斯塔爾對我說的那樣：“你關心自己的工作，關心自己的花園，關心自己的愛好，但你的家庭也需要至少同樣程度的關心。”
如 今，我們擁有許多知識來讓工作變得更簡單，這些知識大多來源於美國頂尖企業的實踐，而為人父母的一項任務在於，找時間在家中嘗試這些知識。正如哈佛大學心 理學家泰勒•本-沙哈爾(Tal Ben-Shahar)在《更快樂》(Happier)一書中所說：“通往不快樂的道路很簡單：那就是什麼也不做。”反過來也可以這麼說，通往快樂的最簡 單路徑就是“做點什麼”。最後，讓我來問大家一個問題：幸福家庭的秘訣是什麼？
（本文改 編自布魯斯•費勒(Bruce Feiler)的《幸福家庭的秘密：不一樣的清晨、家庭晚餐、更聰明的爭執、外出玩耍及更多》(The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More)。該書已於2013年2月19日出版。費勒之前的著作包括《父親委員會》(The Council of Dads)和《聖地蹤跡》(Walking the Bible)等。）