Kitchen science  October 2010

Team building in the kitchen

Cooking Team Building is the latest trend in corporate training. Andrea Ceriani, corporate consultant and teacher at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, discusses its benefits.

Andrea Ceriani, management trainer and professor at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano

Other ways to build a team

Even a winery, a music recording studio or a art gallery can be the setting for team building

Cooking is not the only way to get colleagues to work together. Wine, music and painting workshops can also be helpful in building teams. Visitors to select wineries can work together to create their own wine based on certain objectives and target markets. This exercise can also help groups to anticipate corporate needs and work with external resources.
Playing instruments in a band or singing in a choir are also effective ways to build a team. Inside a recording studio, groups can be assigned activities in order to produce their own symphony.
Painting is also helpful in getting a group to express their values. Groups are generally divided into sub-groups and asked to paint a diptych or triptych that, when united with the others, form a single work based on the various values painted by each team.

Ma. Vi.

Looking for a way to liven things up at work?
To encourage innovation at the workplace?
Why not try a day of team building in the kitchen. You will be surprised by the results.

Do you or anyone you work with panic when something doesn’t go as planned? Try opening the refrigerator and having to improvise a dinner with the ingredients you find. This kid of problem solving easily translates back to the office. Or perhaps you are a particularly competitive person? Try to unite contrasting flavors, like the sweetness of strawberries with the bitterness of arugula. There is nothing that can’t be solved by pots, pans and a few ladles says Andrea Ceriani, professor at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and founder and manager of Kkien Enterprise, a consulting, training and research company. Ceriani is also the author of a book on team building in the kitchen, entitled Manager in cucina. Ricette per la felicità in azienda” (Guerini e Associati, 2008), in which he presents twenty one complete menus for how to manage problems one might encounter at work.

Team building,” he explains, “is a series of activities that help groups come together and become more efficient in their work. The concept of team building started in the mid-Fifties in Anglo-Saxon companies, especially those in North America, but it did not become what we think of it as today until the mid-Sixties. Social psychology transformed into group psychology and team building became the subject of many studies. Today, it is considered an indispensable tool for group building.”

Why the kitchen as the setting for team building? The kitchen is a place in which we are used to learning and is therefore good for improving group performance. There is a direct relationship between what happens when people are in front of the stove and when they are at work. Most things must be done as a group.”

Some management teams at work in the kitchen at Academia Barilla

There are yet other similarities between cooking and working in a company. “In the kitchen, chefs must learn the names of tools and appliances, just as a new hire must learn the tools of his/her respective trade. In order to make a dish, one must make decisions like when someone is at work and has a goal to reach. When we select the ingredients and products to use in a recipe, it is like analyzing client needs and coming up with a strategic plan. In the end, when you taste your dish it is like evaluating the work you have done. You share your successes and look to improve your performance.”

Cooking as team building is particularly effective for groups in need of a shot of adrenaline to wake them up. In the kitchen, it is possible to create a new experience or challenge for each group, just like the menus that Ceriani presents in his book. The author highly recommends two of the menus because they address contemporary problems. “The first deals with intercultural issues. These days, companies are becoming more and more multiethnic and employees need to find ways to bond with foreigners. Asking your employees to prepare foods from their respective countries is a great way to get a taste to things and build understanding.”

The second menu is focused on surprise.
“In a company that leaves little to surprise, because everything is clearly lined out, we can create dishes that delight and enchant. For example, a lobster baked in paper that changes color once opened. These types of surprises help to open up people’s minds.”

Academia Barilla is one of the cooking schools in Italy that offers team-building workshops. Here, more than one manager has successfully traded in his jacket and tie for a chef’s jacket.

Mariagrazia Villa

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