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Cook More, Work Better: Team Building At The Stoves
Photo courtesy Accademia Food Lab

Cook More, Work Better: Team Building At The Stoves

It’s one of the last frontiers in global team building: the “in the kitchen” version brings co-workers together at the stoves, to reinforce the teamwork dynamic

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Being a good team player – which is helpful both in life as well as work – is something you can learn even in the kitchen. And this perhaps unlikely location is beginning to become increasingly popular with team building and human resource experts worldwide, who are heading to professional kitchens in order to teach corporate how to work together. And the gourmet dinner afterwards is, of course, an added bonus.

Every team building session in the kitchen has its basic rules. Employees from the same company gather together in a kitchen, an informal place where people feel at ease, and then break up into groups. A chef, who takes on the role of facilitator, gives instructions and assigns roles, tasks, he demonstrates and teaches, as teams begin to collaborate over sauces and stoves instead of around a conference table.

There are different kinds of cooking team building: some companies ask chefs to just help people socialize and support teams that have to work together. In these instances, a chef’s role is quite elastic and unstructured – the main objective being to help prepare a meal that will leave everyone satisfied. Others, instead, help pick out the group’s most charismatic leaders or individuate the best team leaders. And others are there to encourage a bit of friendly competition in a group that may otherwise be too detached or formal. Sometimes an “iron-chef” kind of contest will be put on – a kind of duel to find out which team can cook the best dish in the least amount of time.

Chef Silvia Bianco is one of America’s most sought-after team builders in the kitchen. Her clients include General Electric, Nestlé, The Gap and many other big corporations. Her secret? To begin each session with a glass of wine and focus on the pleasure of food, sparking off the group’s camaraderie. At the beginning, she’ll confess that she hasn’t prepared anything for them, and that the dinner has to be on the table in two hours. After the initial shock, the spirit of group dynamics takes over and the recipes seem to take care of themselves. 

The driving force between CEO Chef, the company who organizes sessions all over the U.S., is Jim Connolly, the world’s most famous team-building chef, who counts Sun, Disney, Google, and HP amnong his list of clients. But there are many cooking schools who have launched their own corporate team building services, and team building in the kitchen has become one of the new key phrases for those in the human resources and employee training sectors.

Andrea Ceriani, the Italian professor who has become famous for his book Manager in cucina. Ricette per la felicità in azienda ('Managers in the Kitchen. Recipes for Company Happiness',  explains why the kitchen is actually a perfect metaphor for office life: “In the kitchen, chefs must learn the names of tools and appliances, just as a new hire must learn the tools of his/her respective trade. In order to make a dish, one must make decisions like when someone is at work and has a goal to reach. In the end, when you taste your dish it is like evaluating the work you have done. You share your successes and look to improve your performance”.

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