Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Julia Child's Passion Brings Employees Together

I recently saw the movie "Julie/Julia," and was so inspired I made Julia Child's roast chicken the next day. While I won't go into details, suffice it to say that it was a hit at my house and my family wants me to now make all my meals with two pounds of butter.

While watching the movie, I reflected back to a story I recently did for my Gannett/ column. The story was about building teams through cooking, and while researching it, I came across some information about Julia Child and her career. The thing that really struck me was the enthusiasm and passion she had for what she did. It's something I'm sure most of us dream about, and some of us even achieve.

I thought Julia was the perfect person to introduce the story about the joys of cooking and sharing a good meal with colleagues. Here it is:

Famed cook Julia Child once said that cooking is “just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving or music.”

Some employers are also hoping it’s a surefire recipe for motivating and inspiring workers.

At a time when employee engagement is critical because of reduced staffs and increased competition in tough economic times, employers are seeking ways to help employees bond better not only with co-workers, but with managers . They’re stepping into Child’s world – the kitchen – to do just that.

San Francisco-based Parties That Cook stages team-building cooking events for companies where employees work together to create a meal that they then eat together, all under the watchful eye of a professional chef. Often held at a boss’s house, the event mixes together employees in different departments and focuses on each team preparing a dish by a deadline with certain ingredients.

For founder and CEO Rene Lacerte , the kitchen offers just the kind of team building he needs for his start-up company’s 16 employees.

“When I have people to my home, the message I’m sending is that I’m opening my arms and home to them,” Lacerte says. “It’s making a very personal connection.”

With the average employee age around 30, and most of their culinary skills leaning toward peanut –butter-and-jelly sandwiches, Lacerte says his employees were “kind of nervous.”

“But that was OK because I want them to see if they take risks and work together as a team, they can make it work,” he says. “They’re not allowed to pair up with their buddies, so they’re working with people they don’t normally work with. They get to have fun and celebrate with a meal. It’s to remind them with immediate results of what working as a team can accomplish.”

Lacerte says this bonding experience is comparable – or even a bit cheaper – than what it would cost him to take employees to a restaurant, but has the added benefit “of creating a real connection” with the company.

Bibby Gignilliat, founder and executive chef at Parties that Cook, says that while her business has “ebbed and flowed” with the economy, employers are still want to find ways to build strong teams, especially with more companies merging departments or businesses. With prices ranging from $75 to $185 per person, depending on the food and the event, cooking focuses on creativity, communication and trust, she says.

“The cooking is a microcosm of the work environment,” she says. “It levels the playing field because you might find that some star performers are not the best cooks. Or, someone who hasn’t been a star at work is a great cook. You get to see the creativity and personal side of co-workers.”

Lacerte says that employees seem to enjoy the events, especially since they get the added benefit of learning their way around a kitchen and perhaps becoming less intimidated with the thought of cooking at home. “I don’t have a super kitchen, but they see they can make it work,” he says. “And they learn that there’s nothing better than homemade pasta.”

He adds that with employers trying to keep workers focused and enthusiastic despite any bad economic news, team-building events such as the cooking parties are even more critical.

“People sometimes underestimate the value of these kinds of events that remind people of why they do what they do and why it matters,” he says. “Those are feelings that you can then take back to work.”

Notes Gignilliat: “Food is the universal language. Nothing brings people together more.”

Have you had a great team-building experience? What made it great?



Cindy Ventrice said...

I think this is an excellent way to build teams. We did a survey last year on generational preferences in the way people are recognized and found that those who are new to the workforce (4 years or less) are particularly interested in events that allow them to get to know their colleagues better. I was interested in this data in terms of recognition celebrations, but it holds true for team-building events as well.
Cindy Ventrice
author of Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works

Anita said...

It has been such a rough time in the workplace, that I think anything a company can do to help engage and motivate its workers would be worth it from a number of standpoints. Thanks for your comments.

Kareem said...

This is a great idea...I wonder if I could incorporate this into my own team building experiments?

Paul Maurice Martin said...

Never heard of this - it sounds like it would be a great activity. Has a much more natural, real-life feel than lots of team building activities do.