Paul Wherly

Want a more productive team?… Head for the Cafeteria!

Want a more productive team?… Head for the Cafeteria!

The desire for high-performing people who work well together has resulted in companies going to great lengths to team build and bond.

Time and money is put into a whole range of options – expeditions, outdoors adventures, high ropes courses, paint balling, trust exercises and games, for example.

All with mixed results.

Some employees find they have no or little value, are sceptical, are bored of the focus on physical exercises and do not feel any more bonded to their colleagues.

Research by Cornell University suggests an alternative approach – simply encourage teams to eat together.

Their studies revealed:

  • Team members who ate together showed twice as much cooperative behaviour as those who did not
  • Eating together made people feel like part of a family
  • Team performance improved

Researchers say the results of their studies of fire-fighters in the US have implications for teams in the business world.

Companies could consider how, where and when their employees eat at work. Make more use of on-site cafeteria, free or subsidised food. Have takeout food in a conference room or take a walk to a nearby place for lunch together.

Instead of trust falls and games, team members could be invited to prepare, cook and eat a meal together.

Cornell’s researchers accept there are potential negatives to the approach. Teams which only eat together can become disconnected from others in the organisation. New members may feel forced to conform to a tightly-knit team’s rituals.

Teams could also become cliques, organising themselves based on perceived performance and shunning those who don’t meet “the standard”.

The upside is these informal social team gatherings could be the spark for fresh ideas, solutions and new collaborations.

Food for thought?

Shelley Fishel

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