Lunchtime Collaboration Groups work wonders when teams do not have much magic in the collaboration department. When adopted and applied throughout your company, the net result impacts workplace collaboration.
Everybody has to eat lunch, right?
Besides, skipping lunch or eating lunch at your desk so you “look productive,” can backfire. Skipping lunch leaves you short on fuel for your body and your brain. Eating lunch at your desk doesn’t provide you with a break from work-related stress, mostly associated with meeting deadlines.
So eat a healthy lunch, people. Put your hands up over your head and step away from your desktop, tablet or iPhone display.
Here is the twist. Make the midday meal a team destination event. Create a Lunchtime Collaboration Group.
Lunchtime collaboration groups create a collaborative environment independent of:
- Job titles
- Level of education
- Area of professional expertise
Cross-functional communication becomes the accepted norm. Curiosity and innovation also take their places around the table. Holes are poked in corporate silos and discipline-driven mindset.
There is a professional precedent for lunchtime collaboration groups. Lunch-and-Learn vendor presentations are the norm in the AE community (Architectural and Engineering). Vendors bring in lunch. When there is free food, everyone shows up to enjoy and hear the vendor’s sales pitch.
However, forming your own internal lunchtime collaboration group does not involve vendors. Take a leap of faith. Sometimes you need a little nudge. So I am nudging you now.
My first beta lunchtime collaboration group became legendary. Who knew?
The first lunchtime collaboration group I started was during a consulting project with a contract manufacturing team. They wrestled with new customer acquisition issues. They normally worked “together” in the same department. However, these professionals were not used to collaborating together outside of their job descriptions.
Each time we worked together during our half-day morning sessions, everyone scattered in different directions afterwards. Until one day. When they didn’t.
We went to a different conference room. Everyone stayed for lunch! As a team we agreed to do so during our prior Workshop together. So we had lunch delivered. We discussed a recently published article from a manufacturing journal which everyone had read and was prepared to discuss.
Here’s what happened. Team members:
- Relaxed with each other because the conversation was facilitated by an objective third party (yours truly) who was not going to let people lapse into status quo habits.
- Debated constructively with each other when moderation helped them avoid status quo Us versus Them professional condescension.
- Learned they could enjoy being with each other because the lunchtime collaboration group environment creates fresh, new atmosphere for idea exchange.
Do I need to tell you that we continued to have lunch with each other for the remainder of the project and team project productivity increased by 30%?
Here is what you need to do to launch a Lunchtime Collaboration Group.
Lunchtime collaboration groups typically are jumpstarted by a Group Owner who has generated at least 12 weeks’ worth of trending professional and industry-related topics for discussion. (No politics or media topics.) Without an initial syllabus of topics, and an agenda, there is inertia. If things click right, Group Ownership transfers for the next 12 weeks, and so on.
Group membership should not exceed 10 people, preferably no more than 7 each week. A maximum of 10 people can fit around a conference room table. Otherwise, you end up breaking up into two or more separate tables and group dynamics are lost.
A Group Charter is created, including Rules of the Table. No food fights, no real fights, no adversarial behavior, park egos, biases and baggage outside the conference room door, read the article in its entirety prior to the meeting, no cell phones/texting (unless on call), bring an open mind and a willingness to collaborate to learn.
The Group Owner either becomes the facilitator or invites an internal expert to moderate. By the way, everyone learns a lot about how to moderate and facilitate by watching a real pro in action. Win-win, yes? Habits reinforced in the lunchtime collaboration group begin to show up within work teams.
Lunchtime Collaboration Groups are safe places for workplace collaboration and innovation.
Do I need to tell you that my initial beta lunchtime collaboration group became “the” group to become part of? Team members spoke so highly about the quality of their time together, that other teams wanted an invite.
The initial team begat other lunchtime collaboration groups throughout the company. Some teams worked out more productively than others. However, people took a risk and gave the idea a shot.
Think about it. Something as innocuous as a weekly meal together and a topic to – literally – chew on.
Sometimes the best way to poke holes in corporate silos and overcome Us versus Them professional mindset is to change up the work environment.
Not all companies have budgets large enough for fancy off-site retreats and rope courses, etc. However, every company has a break room or conference room where teams can eat lunch together.
Perhaps the first place to start catalyzing workplace collaboration is by forming a lunchtime collaboration group. Bon appetit!
Babette Ten Haken is a management consultant, strategist, speaker and coach focused on customer success for customer retention. She traverses the interface between human capital strategy for hiring and developing collaborative technical and non-technical teams. She serves manufacturing, IT and engineering intensive companies. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon. Visit the Free Resources section of her website for more tools.