The founder of Parties That Cook serves up workplace harmony.
Corporate team-building exercises often deserve their bad reputations. After all, what can you learn from the fifth annual trust fall?
I think effective team building exercises split the difference between fun (otherwise, why do it?) and work (if it seems like a job, you might as well stay in your cubicle). That's why my company specializes in team building exercises that function like microcosms of the working world. People work together toward a common goal, with deadlines and limited resources. They're kind of doing what they do at the office, but all in one hour. And unlike the workplace, they can see results right away and feel proud about what they've done. Fun and work come together in one simple exercise.
Or one dish. Our hottest product right now is a timed competition called Kitchen Challenge, a cross between Iron Chef and The Apprentice. Two teams from one company elect project managers and are given our chefs as culinary coaches. Both teams get the same basic ingredients—the same protein, the same starch, the same vegetable—and they create a meal from scratch. It gets really competitive, and clear communication makes all the difference between winning and losing. The competitions can get a little crazy. At a recent party for a consulting firm, the participants tried to outdo each other in garnishes. One team created a mushroom snowman, while the other came up with offbeat names like Britney Asparagus Spears. Kitchen Challenge is enough like work to make the exercise meaningful but enough not like work to make the lessons appetizing.
But the best lesson probably isn't a better communication strategy or a fresh way to improve productivity. It's the opportunity to let people see each other in a new and positive light. Maybe the head of the company cooks poorly, but another employee is the star in the kitchen. When office hierarchies go out the window, new leaders can emerge. The only thing that should fall in effective team-building exercises isn't employees but preconceived notions—and the stray egg.