We all agree that food makes for the ultimate socialising experience. We don’t really feel we know someone until we have shared a meal with them. If eating together is a way of bonding, however, cooking together is at least twice as effective. It has been widely proven that teams that share a cooking experience and then eat the result of their collective work together are more productive and less likely to stall or experience serious conflict. This is why culinary team buildings are so effective: because they allow teams to bond over something that literally everyone has in common. We have been organising culinary team building experiences for our clients for over ten years and we can confirm that they are incredibly effective in promoting group interaction, the healthy discussion of existing issues and overall team cohesion. One of our most recent team building projects was a cooking class for Panduit employees, in Milan. Here’s how we made it a success.
Enhancing team performance
Contrary to what you may think, taking cooking classes with your team doesn’t feel at all like cooking dinner together with your friends in your own kitchen. This kind of classes usually take place in a professional kitchen and are held by professional chef, which means the work is much more organised and hierarchical than any previous cooking experience you might have had. The explicit goal of these classes is preparing food like professional restaurateurs do: in a neat assembly line, fit to serve large groups within a limited time. This is not, at least as far as the “cooking” part is concerned, a relaxing activity. Indeed, the kind of organisation needed to run a restaurant kitchen has been often likened to that of military corps: everyone has a specific and essential role and everyone must carry out their tasks in a specific way and along a strict timeline, in order for the result to be excellent. Communication and resource management are vital to such an endeavour, and there is an element of incredible satisfaction in “savouring” the fruits of collective work. This experience allows team members to connect in a more direct way with the actual work they are required to do, because the outcome is something they can assess directly, and derive pleasure from. And yet our specific project did have relaxing elements to it, coming as it did after an important corporate meeting in Milan. Much like a game of football might have done, it provided an excellent opportunity for our guests to let out some steam while remaining focused and engaged. We made it fun by giving each team a mystery ingredient box of made-in-Italy products. The teams were to compete against each other in the preparation of finger-food with the ingredients they were given.
Team cohesion for decentralised workplaces
It is increasingly common for teams to not share a common physical space. Most companies, nowadays, employ on-site as well as remote workers, thus creating teams that work together without hardly ever meeting in person. This set-up has its undeniable advantages, but it does not encourage trust between co-workers. When remote teams have the opportunity to gather together for a team building experience, the chosen activity should promote fast bonding between virtual strangers. Cooking and eating are ideal to that effect. It is simply impossible to cook a meal together and eat it without learning to trust each other to some degree.
There are other benefits to taking a cooking class, of course. First of all, everyone likes to eat and being able to prepare a tasty meal is a highly desirable skill. Tips and tricks to use in the kitchen are the content of some of the most popular Youtube videos and Pinterest boards. Cooking skills are increasingly valued, thanks to the unstoppable proliferation of TV-chefs and cooking shows, thus making cooking classes as much a desirable incentive gift as an effective team building tool. From knife skills to ingredient matching, from the ability to read and understand recipes to basic equipment knowledge, a good cooking class will teach your employees a set of skills that they will be able to use in their everyday life. The happy side effect of this learning experience can be found in another set of soft-skills that can easily be transferred from the kitchen to the conference room, such as leadership, coordination, attention to detail, clear communication, smooth interaction and the effective distribution of tasks. Not to mention the fact that cooking is a highly creative activity, that encourages innovation and blue-sky thinking. One of our tasks, for instance, was the preparation of a specific type of pasta (trofie, tagliatelle and ravioli). Now, everyone in Italy can cook pasta (more or less), but not everyone gets to do that under the supervision of a professional chef. Even the simplest of procedures can be improved in a measurable way. This, naturally, was an extremely valuable lesson that our guests will get to apply to their working life.
Breaking the ice (and cooking with fire)
It is not unusual for team members who seldom meet each other to have difficulties socialising or talking about anything other than work. Cooking classes provide the perfect context to socialise without having to switch from work-related topics to overly personal ones, skipping the awkward silences and small talk that many find daunting. Because all parties involved are leaving their comfort zone, by doing something they are not trained for, everyone has a shared ground for mutual interaction.