Managing a Family-Owned Business: Leadership Roles - Case Study Of Google's Project Oxygen

Imagine this: it's Monday morning, and you arrive at the office early because you need to put in extra hours to back up for your partner, Budi, who works as he pleases.

You could simply complain to your boss. After all, team partners should work equally – so if Budi isn't doing his job, then your boss should know, right?

The problem is that you don't work for a "regular" company. You work for a family-owned business, and Budi is your boss's niece. That makes things a bit more complicated because your boss doesn't like to hear negative things about Budi.

Annoying, right? It’s an open secret that family businesses can struggle with leadership.

The Italian auto group, Fiat, run by the heirs of Gianni Agnelli, went through five CEOs and three chairmen in two years before consider professional to lead it.

Leadership is a serious thing in a family-owned business. Imagine what if the whole company was led by an incompetent manager? It's a mess. Even before the 3rd generation curse hits, the company will go bankrupt by itself.

As your family business grows business operations become more complex, you need the hand of a professional leader. Unfortunately, most family businesses ignore the importance of professionalizing their businesses and insist to hold senior management positions exclusively for family members. 

What makes someone a good family business leader? This question can be difficult to answer. A good leader is more than a manager. 

Remember Google’s Aristotle Project? An experiment on finding what makes a good team. It turns out, Google did a similar experiment a few years before the Aristotle Project. It’s called Oxygen Project.

What is the Oxygen Project and what are the impacts that can we apply to our family-owned business? Read the full explanation below!

Read: Grow Your Family-Owned Business by Building Effective Team - Case Study Of Google's Project Aristotle

Oxygen Project

For over ten years, technology giant, Google surveyed its employees about their opinions of ‘what is a great manager’. This research is called Project Oxygen. The purpose was to find out what makes the perfect manager, so Google could train its leaders to develop similar behavior and drive continuous improvement among Google’s management team. 

From this research, Google identified eight similar behaviors among their highest performing managers and incorporated them into manager development programs. By training the managers on these eight behaviors, Google has seen a significant improvement in employee turnover, satisfaction, and performance.

As the company grew, demands on their managers and leaders increased as well. So, Google did the second research, updating the behaviors according to internal research and its employee’s feedback. They found out that the qualities of a great leader at Google had evolved along with the company.

Here are the ten best manager behaviors, according to Google’s Oxygen (number 9 and 10 are the new ones):

  1. A good manager is a good coach

They use challenges as teachable moments to guide their teams, they guide their teams and share insights so the team can get valuable experience and grow.

  1. Empowers the team and avoid micromanaging

Excellence managers give their people the freedom to share their ideas and to make mistakes. They will work toward the empowerment of the team and grant as much ability to manage their environment to meet objectives.

  1. Creates an inclusive team environment

Google’s research has shown the fact that employees need to feel psychologically safe in their working environment. The best team is the one where the teammates feel safe to take risks and share their thoughts.

  1. Productive and result oriented

The best managers make their teammates better. They’re not afraid to land their hand and help out. They also focus on results rather than minor issues.

  1. Good in communication

The best managers are great listeners and information sharers. With this skill,  they can understand their team better and show appropriate empathy. These skills are used for transparency and to grow the team’s network of information.

  1. Supports career development and performance

Great managers are encouraging their people by sharing sincere and specific praise. They aren’t afraid to share critical constructive feedback.

Read: Succession Planning for Family Business in Preparing The Next Generation Part 2

  1. A clear vision for the team

Great managers know exactly the goal and the objective, also where the team is right now, where they are headed, and what they need to do to get there.

  1. Has key technical skills to help advise the team

Great managers understand the jobs of their team, including their daily tasks and challenges. If the manager is moved into a new department, they need to get to know the teammates first.

  1. Collaborates across Google

Excellent managers work for the good of the company and encourage their teams to achieve the same.

  1. a strong decision-maker

Great managers are decisive. They move things forward right away after getting to know the facts and considering the thoughts of their team.


Project Oxygen by Google shows that a great manager is still badly needed. Managers who can work with the team and make the right decisions are one of the keys to improving company performance, both in terms of performance and customer satisfaction.

Quality management is not only important for family companies but also produces better-performing employees.

The managers at Google are great because they employ the 10 behaviors listed above.

Don't waste the time and energy of your company members by hiring managers who are incapable of leading your company or your team to avoid the curse of 3 generations.

Don't let your manager's subjectivity and incompetence destroy your company.

to get more information about the implementation of Google's Project Oxygen in the family business, click this link to join the Indonesian Family Business Community

The Indonesian family business community consists of dozens of family business practitioners who have a mission to develop their business for more than 3 generations and break the curse of 3 generations in the family business.

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