We know the importance of creating a safe work environment filled with opportunities to learn and grow. Employees want to feel both appreciated for their contributions and have the sense that they are a true and valued part of the team.
Many components go into creating this kind of culture in an organization, but there is one method that is both easy and carries with it the potential for longlasting benefits. That would be the act of gathering your team around a meal.
Sharing food together is a foundation of communities both small and large. From families at the dinner table to block parties and neighborhood cookouts, people love to eat in social environments. Bringing people together around food provides a relaxed, familiar environment for communication.
We tend to eat with people we like or will come to like. So, why not bring that environment to the workplace and give everyone the opportunity to share food and build the bonds that lead to liking one another?
Bond over bagels and boost your bottom line
As CEO, you invest a relatively small amount of money in pizza (or ice cream or eggs and bacon), but you are actually investing deeply in your people. While eating together, employees build connections and develop relationships. They share stories about their days, their families and, yes, their work. These interactions can help them feel connected to each other and engaged with the organization that made it possible — the organization that is recognizing and appreciating them.
Engaged employees have a high level of emotional connection to their work and feel a great deal of fulfillment in what they do. They trust leadership, feel recognized for their efforts and are satisfied with the direction of their career. Pizza is, of course, only part of the puzzle, but it is an excellent place to begin the building.
Play an active role
As CEO, you are responsible for driving these efforts and, as much as possible, participating. When we leaders are present, it helps send a positive message to our wonderful people that the event is important, and that they are valued members of the organization. Now, when you attend, don’t sit with your fellow executives. Simply being present isn’t enough. Sit with people you don’t see or interact with very often, if at all. Ask questions and most importantly, listen.
I often sit with our production workers who I don’t see in my daily office routine. It gives me the chance to ask personally how things are going in the plant, ask if they need anything and listen to their stories about the latest company-sponsored soccer team victory. These interactions bring me great happiness and build trust between us. We see each other as individuals and that is key to building a strong culture.
Here are some tips to bringing your team to the table:
- Events should be routine — A colleague once spoke about his siblings’ ritual of gathering the first Sunday afternoon of every month “whether they liked it or not.” Of course, you hope your employees like it, but gatherings need to be scheduled and routine to reinforce their importance.
- Include recognition — Serve breakfast before monthly employee meetings and recognize birthdays, employment anniversaries and business successes.
- Celebrate little things — There is always a reason to celebrate, even if it is just a beautiful summer day. How about setting up a sundae bar or caramel apples for an afternoon treat?
- Feature families and special interests — Company picnics for families are nice events, as are lunches that highlight employees’ diverse cultural backgrounds, such as our Cinco de Mayo and Indian celebrations where employees help prepare ethnic dishes to share.
- Be involved — As I said earlier, being a part of these meals is important for us as leaders of our organizations. We help set the tone. I have seen shared meals generate tremendous goodwill and help build the culture and community needed to be a successful, growing organization. Be part of the experience.
Joseph Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world.