Not an overly complex question, cafeteria, patrol station or lunch room in the shop, right? Well believe it or not, research shows that eating together enhances group performance. The research relates to the performance of firefighters stating that eating together is a central component of keeping their teams operating effectively.
When I read the article I immediately thought of my interview with the Steamboat Ski Resort Lift Maintenance team, Steep Management Newsletter February 2015. When I first met Kurt Castor, Director of Lift Maintenance, he was very proud of how his team met and discussed things as they ate their lunch. I didn’t think much of it until I joined the group. The lunch room is pretty non-descript except for an overhead projector hooked up to a computer in the corner and a white board/screen at the end of the table. My last trip back a large flat screen TV replaced the projector so the computer hooked up directly to the TV.
The group gets together every day for lunch except for those out on a service call or a ski around and talk about what is going on generally within the resort and specifically any issues with any of the lifts. The computer is used to share photos of lift components that the team members have taken so that all can share in the discussion and see the problem being presented. This time is also used to disseminate company info, share KPI’s the team has set up for their performance improvement and financial performance of the department. This is an amazing team at Steamboat, read my article at link above to get more insight.
What fascinated me in reading the Harvard Business Review article is that I had actually seen the research results with my own eyes at Steamboat. I remember after writing this Steamboat article last winter thinking how impactful this simple step of eating lunch together had on this team and now my thinking of this as an excellent tool for staff engagement and training is validated by a Harvard Business Review article.
It is fully understood that within mountain operations not all departments can have lunch together, ski patrol is out on the hill all day, lift ops are loading chairs all day and snowmakers maybe spread out all over the hill at night. However, there are opportunities where these departments can come together in a piece meal manner. We have certain traditions, like boot room congregation after sweep for patrol, locker room dispatch for lifties, groomers and snowmakers that could be used as eating gatherings, shared donuts in the morning, soup at the end of the day to build engagement. The authors of the referenced article point out “that eating is such a primal behavior that it can be extraordinarily meaningful”. I know it is not uncommon to share a beer or two at the end of a shift in the boot room or locker room but I’m not sure that produces the same sort of atmosphere for collaboration and team building. Don’t get me wrong I’m not opposed and recognize that this tradition has its place in the overall team building.
I shares this because I have seen it work, it is low cost and has such an upside that it should not be ignored as a tool for technical training, staff engagement and team building.