A Tasty Team Building Exercise

Jurgen! How would you encourage team building?

A good team building exercise which (at least to me) is preferable over helicopter droppings, mountain climbing and mud wrestling, is to invite a bunch of colleagues for an evening of cooking.

Team Building
I regularly organize these team building events so that employees have a chance to get to known each other, to improve communications, and to show off my Italian kitchen. On such an occasion six of my colleagues come over to my place, usually straight from work, and when they arrive I hand out some copies of different Italian recipes (after hiding the expensive wines and having made sure that all ingredients and cheaper wines are prominently displayed and ready for use). These team members have no experience in cooking together, while some of them have never had to cook their own dinner at all. And on top of that they are working in a kitchen they have never used before.

What I like about this team building exercise is…

  1. The team members have to self-organize and read, interpret and coordinate all tasks among themselves;
  2. By announcing a “required” dinner time you can turn the exercise into a timebox with variable requirements;
  3. Dinner is cooked for me and I don’t have to do anything…

Here are a couple of suggestions if you would like to try this out for yourself:

  • Select recipes with easy-to-understand ingredients. (Most people understand the difference between anchovis and mozzarella. But don’t make it any harder than that.)
  • Check that preparations for the recipes and cooking activities don’t get too complicated. You don’t want them to mess up a Hollandaise sauce. There should be a reasonable chance of having something edible delivered at the end of the timebox.
  • Check people’s diets in advance. If someone is allergic to mushrooms, peanuts, olive oil or water, you will want to know!

In these cooking endeavors with my colleagues I keep the time needed to prepare dinner (the budget) under control by selecting only simple recipes and limiting the number of people involved. Nevertheless, our little culinary projects are always underestimated and (usually) behind schedule. This is not because of too much work or too little time or bad coordination. The cooks simply talk and drink too much! The food is always good though.

Interesting? Not? Tell me about it! Or check out some of my other favorite articles:

Make It Simple vs. Do It Simple

AINO: Agile In Name Only

The Ethical Software Engineer (Not French!)

  • Follow Your Mind, Not Your Rules
  • How to Create a Pre-Project Document
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  • http://pierg.wordpres.com PierG

    I do like good cooking, and I do like Italian recipes (I’m Italian 🙂 ) and I believe team building has to be done at work.
    Yes, you get to know each other a bit better drinking a beer (or cooking) but team building has to be done THERE where the team has to work together, with real problems, in the real environmente.
    My 2 euro cents.

  • Sebastiaan

    @PierG – Usually, Jurgen tends to pick 6 people that don’t usually work together every day, on this picture alone I see a developer, support staff, someone from the learning department, someone from finance… and so on. It’s great getting to know someone that you don’t talk to every day.
    Even if that wasn’t the case and this was a team of 6 developers, there’s something to be said for social team building as opposed to “on the job” team building. It allows people to see their team mates in a different perspective, and learn some of their problem solving skills in completely other areas than their job.
    You’ll be surprised how well they match up to their problem solving skills on the job.

  • https://noop.nl Jurgen Appelo

    @PierG: Actually today I was told that the same team building example is mentioned in the book Peopleware, by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister. It seems I didn’t get the idea all by myself. 😉

  • http://pierg.wordpres.com PierG

    yes I saw the Twitt of Ed about Peopleware and I’ve read the book too. I think it’s a MUST READ book and it was written in 1987 (was internet around in that period? 🙂 ).
    I think meeting and knowing each other more (until a certain limit) is PERFECTLY ok and probably helps in working together in a better way. What I think is that the team has to perform well in a certain environment and doing a certain job and we have to improve that.

  • Pam

    So…what’dya cook?

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