How often does your team eat together?  This simple yet powerful act can have a myriad of positive benefits.  

Research by Professor Kevin Kniffin of Cornell University found how extraordinary meaningful eating together can be.  One study looked at firefighters who engaged in Commensality – preparing and eating food together – and it showed that those who ate together did their jobs better.  In some cases, there is a lot of cooperative behavior that underline meal practice – collecting money, planning, talking, cleaning, and eating – all enhance group performance on the job.  In fact, cooperative behavior was twice as high for those who ate together versus those who did not.  Even those who did not contribute money for the meals still went in on the experience as they brought their food to eat with the others.  Eating together is essential for making the team more effective because it makes a group feel like a kind of family and creates bonds beyond the job. 

You can see this also happening in the sports arena.  Spurs legendary basketball Coach Gregg Popovich, who has the most wins in NBA history, knows all about building a strong team culture.  The Spurs eat together as often as they play basketball with a high number of team, group, and coach dinners.  As a food connoisseur, Popovich plans the restaurants and meals carefully, and at the end of the season, each player gets a leather-bound book containing the menus and wine labels from every dinner.  It’s a bonding experience that each player remembers long after the event.  

Companies would do well investing in how employees eat at work.  Google offers free high quality abundantly varied meals, which increases the odds that teammates will eat with each other and build further connections. While it is unrealistic to think that every company can provide meals, some simple things can be done to encourage your team or organizational members to break bread together more frequently.

Here are some practices you can use to encourage more team mingling:

1. Lunch roulette.  This is a great way to foster in-company networking.  It is currently being employed at Boehringer Ingelheim.  It works in four simple steps.  Participants select a date when they are free for lunch and choose one of the company cafeterias in which to travel.  They then click a “Match Me” button, and a lunch date and calendar reminder are emailed to their mailboxes.  After that, all they need to do is show up with an open mind and a willingness to connect.  Within seven weeks of the program, more than 350 people were matched, including a more unusual pairing of the CEO with a young member of one of the brand marketing teams.  It is a practical way of creating links where none had existed and exposing colleagues to different ideas and perspectives. Unexpected pairings and conversations for creative collaborations are always a welcomed surprise. And if you do not prefer to use an app to do these matchings, you can make the sign-ups electronically available as a google doc where people can add their names. If you are unable to meet in person, you can arrange a zoom lunch and create connections even while physically distanced.

2. Lunch and learn.  Similar to lunch roulette, but combines a more formal learning and socializing approach. You write down three things you would be interested in sharing and three things you would like to learn.  Partners are made based on mutual interest.  It is a great informal way of building cross-functional engagement and connecting with people who work in different departments that you do not get that much personal time to interact. This helps to create greater bonds and connect with people outside your immediate team.  Other than one-on-ones, you can also choose to have a small group gathering to amplify the learning experience.

When you dedicate time to get to know others and eat food together, you are creating special moments.  You may find yourself talking about meaningful personal topics that keep you connected to others in unbreakable ways. Additionally, that positive energy transfers into the work world as there is a significant correlation between eating together and positive performance.

Quote of the day: “First we eat, then we do everything else.” -Writer M.F.K Fisher

Q: What food practices do you have to spend better quality time with others? Comment and share with us, we would love to hear from you!

*The next blog in this team series 9/10 will explore the importance of rituals for teams.

The power of community through meal sharing