Eating as a Team Sport


Eating as a Team Sport


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A recent study confirms what we’ve known all along: Eating together builds stronger teams. Researchers at Cornell University say they’ve found a deceptively simple method for building teams: Encourage them to eat together.

The study focused on firefighters in 13 firehouses in an American city who prepare and eat meals together during their shifts. The researchers posited the question: Do firefighters who eat together do their jobs better than those who don’t?

The firefighters surveyed reported that eating together is a central component of keeping their teams operating effectively. It makes a team feel like a family, they said, and creates a focus when members aren’t out on the job.

The officers identified significant positive correlations between eating together and team performance. Cooperative behavior, for example, was considerably greater—about twice as high—among team members who ate with one another than those who didn’t.  Moreover, the research team argues that the cooperative behaviors underlying the firefighters’ meal practices—collecting money, planning, talking, cleaning, and, of course, eating—all enhance group performance on the job.  “Behavior that might seem superfluous or wasteful to outside observers ultimately carries significant importance for organizational performance,” they concluded.

These findings are not new to us.

When we moved to our current office, it was important for us to have a space for a functioning kitchen, and not just a standard pantry.  While we enjoyed our regular staff lunches in restaurants, we wanted to hold traditional ‘family meals’ in our office wherein everyone took part in the preparation.

The act of preparing a meal and eating together builds a level of camaraderie and esprit de corps that cannot be created in a corporate boardroom or an adventure sports team challenge. Eating is a primal behavior that’s extraordinarily meaningful and loaded with symbolism.

During our ‘cook-ins’, we trade family recipes and traditions, discuss seemingly mundane things and like any family, rib each other on who can make the best chocolate chip cookies.  Ideas are shared in an atmosphere that’s collaborative and infinitely less confrontational than a meeting room. Everyone willingly volunteers for a range of tasks – to be part of the prep team or clean-up crew, or be the celebrated chef du jour.

There’s no one-upmanship or hierarchy. The table becomes a circle of trust and a platform for team work to flourish.  Moreover, as we’ve learned, there’s nothing that takes the edge off stress and tension than the smell of a home-cooked meal wafting through the office.

As we reunite with our families this holiday season, we hope you have the opportunity to savour the time shared with loved ones, be enriched by nourishing conversations and experience the profound way that food forges friendships, as we’ve learned, not just in the home, but in the workplace.

Paul Calder

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