Lingering at the table

Stanley Ott has another great post over at VCI this month. He encourages us to slow down over our meals to create “leisurely times of conversation and mutual encouragement.”

Building team-friendly environments

One of my favorite ways to build an environment where teams can be repaired, grow and thrive is over a meal. When Frank & Pauly’s was open (as a restaurant) in downtown Cleveland, I would regularly order a couple of trays of their delicious pasta dishes and bring them back to a conference room in our offices. There, the team would spend a very long and leisurely lunch talking about whatever was important.

Measured in dollars, it wasn’t too expensive, but measured in building trust, breaking down barriers and opening dialog, it was priceless.

Edge of pizza slice

Pizza by sparktography (Flickr)

A few years later, I moved on to manage another team and found that this group preferred pizza. Vincenza’s pizza. Every month or so, I’d reserve a few large, sunny conference rooms for the day and encourage my team to drop out of sight for a while to get some uninterrupted work done. I’d slip out a little before noon to bring back some large pizzas of their choosing and we’d spend a long and leisurely lunch talking about whatever was important.

Invariably, after a long while, someone would look at their watch, smile and suggest we get back to work. I never told them (but I think they knew) that what was taking place around the table was some of the most important foundational “work” we would get to.

Thinking back a few years, I recognize that this is a pattern that I’ve built over the last decade while repairing, building and growing three different teams. The reasons for needing to work on the team structure and dynamics varied as did the methods employed. But a common thread was periodically “lingering at the table”.

If we really are social creatures, why not?

No more “power lunches”

I don’t know what will work with your team. This “lingering” approach might be useful. One of my teams went through a period where a couple dozen bagels and cinnamon-sugar pastries coupled with large amounts of coffee helped slow us down to have those “leisurely times of conversation and mutual encouragement”.

I can tell you two things that won’t work.

  1. Always eating at your desk
  2. Only taking 15-minute “power lunches”

Neither habit will build team-friendly environments where your team can grow, develop and perform.

So . . . (checks his watch) . . . when’s lunch?

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