Analyses - December 5, 2007



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December 2007


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A new trend: Culinary team building

Much in demand by companies, culinary team building activities were named one of the top ten meeting trends of the year by Benchmark Hospitality International. On the menu: challenges like creativity, communication, conflict resolution, time and resource management and cooperation. The result: new friendships, a more unified team and delicious meals!

This trend is closely associated with another, dubbed “Work hard, play hard.” In fact, Benchmark notes that a bigger slice of meeting and convention budgets is being allocated to leisure and team building events. Though companies are still demanding more from their employees, they are also recognizing the need to balance this with fun activities like a round of golf, a spa visit, or even a cooking class. Microsoft, Westin, KLM, eBay and many other corporations are sending their employees to the kitchen.

A simple recipe for cooperation

Team building sessions can take a variety of forms, but they are often associated with physical activities, sometimes extreme in nature, that are not necessarily suitable for all employees. Golf, rafting, treasure hunts and role-playing are just some of the ways in which employees can accomplish something together outside the workplace. Unlike golf, which is appeals primarily to golfers, and rafting, which is too extreme for some people, cooking lessons are a simple, relatively inexpensive and highly accessible way to get people together. Furthermore, culinary activities focus more on cooperation than other, more competitive, activities do.

Delicious benefits

Like any organization, a cooking class follows a system: to succeed, participants must set deadlines, use limited resources, make decisions and cooperate. In the kitchen, individuals assigned different roles are put into groups to create a product, in this case, a meal. Participants share responsibilities and learn to appreciate the individual skills of each team member as they work towards a common goal: grilled lamb, sautéed mushrooms or a rich chocolate sauce!

Events can be customized to meet the goals and budget of each specific group. Another very popular option is to have the experience include an opportunity to work with a renowned chef.

Cooking is an enjoyable activity that everyone is capable of doing. In fact, one’s prowess in the kitchen is in no way related to one’s tasks in the workplace; roles are sometimes reversed, stereotypes fall by the wayside and a new group dynamic can emerge. Since the kitchen is a familiar environment and food is a universal language, people who cook together can become closer in a way that endures beyond the team building exercise itself.

The secret to success: Planning and consistency

  • To be successful, a team building activity begins long before the session itself, which must be well planned. Ideally, a team of employees should be formed to organize the event.
  • For maximum effect, the activity should be consistent with the company’s overall organization. In other words, its corporate culture, values and internal practices should underscore the team concept on an ongoing basis.
  • Participation will be greater if the team building activity is organized around a business goal that all employees can contribute to.
  • To take full advantage of the potential of team building, organizers must set real work goals, determine how the learning will be integrated into the workplace and decide what type of follow-up will be done, all before the activity even takes place. Doing so will lead to better planning.

A poorly planned team building activity can lead to negative consequences. This can happen if the event does not complement the company’s usual work environment. For example, if the company normally rewards individual efforts, an activity to build team spirit will likely have no impact and even strike employees as a waste of time. Similarly, if an event lacks follow-up or is not related to concrete, consistent actions in the workplace, it could well damage employee confidence, motivation and productivity.

Some examples

  • CEO Chef is first and foremost a team building company. Following a short introduction and some safety tips, participants form teams and name a leader. Then the workshop leader presents the “culinary challenge.” Teams must prepare the food according to the instructions (which are often far from complete). The goal is team work, creativity and trusting others. After the cooking, the workshop leader leads a discussion about the lessons learned. CEO Chef comes to the convention or meeting site and brings all the equipment needed for the team building activity.
  • Along the same lines, Recipe for Success has a very diverse menu: sushi, chili, chocolate, ice cream, and even ice sculptures! Other outfits are Hands on Gourmet and Parties that Cook.Other companies like Gourmet Retreats in California and Tall Order in Vancouver specialize in a variety of culinary experiences, with team building being just one of their activities.
  • The Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas is currently building an enormous kitchen that will be used exclusively for classes and demonstrations as well as team building activities.
  • The Institut du tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ) and the Académies Culinaire de Québec and de Montréal offer cooking classes to private groups and open their facilities to companies who wish to hold team building events.
  • The Québec Resorts and Country Inns network offers culinary team building as one of the indoor activities available at its establishments.
  • Montreal outfit La Cuisine de Lili Margot is a place where guests help make their own meal with the help of a chef. It is also available for team building activities.

Take the plunge!

With its positive outcomes, accessibility and user-friendliness, culinary team building seems to be making a name for itself. Participants gain a better understanding of their team’s strengths and challenges, as well as insight into how to manage its dynamic. And, of course, the highlight is the delicious group meal that follows.

The phenomenon has even reached Quebec. However, while there are some exciting initiatives, it is not clear that the supply is ready to meet the demand of meeting and convention organizers. There is definitely room for an organization to develop such activities for conventioneers and business travellers in Quebec. Of course, though hotel owners cannot simply become group leaders of team building activities overnight, they can certainly open the doors of their kitchens and develop such events in partnership with specialized companies, organizational psychologists or other professionals.

Perhaps the idea should simmer for a while…

– Healthfield, Susan M., “Keys to Team Building Success,” Human Resources.
– HotelOnline. “Benchmark Hospitality’s Top Meeting Trends for 2007,” March 6, 2007.
– Vallerand, Nathalie. “Drôle de team building!” Affaires Plus, December 2007.


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