This article uses the concept of organisational culture and shared values as a means of analysing the internal operating environment of four smaller firms, each of which has a family dimension to its ownership and management. The shared values of a sense of belonging, honesty, loyalty, trust and respect were pieced together from multiple data sources during a 12-month ethnographic study of firms in the fish processing industry in north-east Scotland. These shared values are collectively referred to as embodying a family culture. The family culture was found to be universal in only one of the firms studied. In the other three firms, the alignment to the values of the family culture served to differentiate between an inner team and peripheral employees. The criteria for membership of the inner team is through alignment to the shared values of the family culture and in this way the inner team in each of the three firms includes family members, some (but not all) supervisory staff, and friends of other members. The contribution of the article is to identify specifically the shared values that underpin the family culture. Further, the research reveals that a universal family culture should not automatically be associated with a family firm in that it may be a feature of organisational subcultures and potentially have relevance to non-family firms.