Over the years of managing projects and people I've found that food can be a great enabler. Culturally and historically,people put aside differences and bond over the dinner (or lunch or meeting) table. Using these concepts can help you forge a more connected team and even help gauge the state of your project.
Here are a few food pointers:
- Chocolate: I've covered chocolate in another blog, but the upshot is this: Keep a bowl of individually wrapped chocolates (like Hershey's Kisses) on your desk. People will come by to get chocolate and due to the principle of reciprocation will unwrap it and talk for a bit - giving you more insight into your project. The chocolate in the bowl will also disappear in direct proportion to the stress level on your project - the faster the chocolate goes away, the more trouble your project is in.
- Snacks in Meetings: Nothing puts a meeting at a high priority better than the knowledge that snacks will be available. It's a small expense to get everyone to the meeting on time (so they get the pick of the snacks) and to help them relax a bit. If you have sugary snacks (like donuts), be sure to provide something like fruit as well. Pick things that aren't too messy and that are fairly self-contained (grapes instead of bananas, for example, so people don't have to figure out what to do with peels), and don't have too many choices (a few are good but too many choices will suck up part of your meeting as people try to decide what to take). Be sure to provide napkins (and plates if needed).
- Lunches: When you provide lunch you will typically have one of two results in mind. The result you are seeking should inform your choice of food:
- If you're trying to get everyone together avoid pre-packaged lunches. Pizza is really the absolute best for keeping people in the room - no one wants to grab multiple pieces so they stick around and sit and talk while they eat. Dimsum and tapas will serve the same purpose. When you order, be sure to order more of the basics than people say they want (for example, almost no one asks for pepperoni pizza but it's always the first to run out; I've also seen PB&J sandwiches disappear at an alarming rate).
- If you're trying to keep people at their desks to work when the team is up against a deadline - but want to keep them fed and healthy - you'll want the exact opposite. Pre-packaged meals or buffets where folks can grab and go and eat at their desks are the best way to go.
- Whatever you decide, be sure you understand any special diets and provide for them - there's nothing more demoralizing than having to watch other people eat when your needs haven't been provided for. This can be as simple as providing vegetarian dishes and as complex as gluten-free and/or dairy-free.
- A recent study confirms that sharing food is of cultural importance, and the findings go on to tell us that eating the same thing with someone else further inspires confidence and friendship - so if you're trying to establish a relationship with someone, pick the same food they're eating and have a conversation!
So grab a bag of Hershey's kisses, order up some lunch, and help your team bond and share information!