Fifty Minute Classroom

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50-Minute Classroom: Picking Teams

04 October 2013

Continuing the theme of helping students work together successfully to better prepare them for real-life employment, Chef Weiner suggests strategic ways to group team members who don’t necessarily see eye to eye.

By Adam Weiner, CFSE

Last month’s article was based upon a seminar given by Paul Sorgule at this past summer’s Leadership Conference about how students interact, fight and then grow together to become a team.

The two key points of that article were: 1) whether or not students like working in teams, they need to learn how to work in teams to work in the culinary field, and 2) whether they like someone on their team is not relevant, as they still have to work together well.

How teams are chosen will, in large part, contribute to teaching students how to work in a team format. Here are some of the ways to pick teams:

  1. The least successful way I have found of picking teams is to go around the room and have students count off. If I have 16 students and four teams, in theory this should yield four teams of four people. However, it always confuses the heck out of me how, when it was time to go to their work stations, one team would have one person, one team six people and one team five and, of all things, one team of no one and four people will say they don’t know what team they are on! I even tried having people hold up their fingers with their team number and I still wouldn’t get even teams.
     
  2. Occasionally I pick teams like we all did in junior-high-school P.E. The problem is that the same person is always last. I don’t like doing this too much, because I was always the last person picked in P.E. and I know how humiliating it is. (I teach one day a week at the jail. I have new students every week, and I often have the new people be the team captains because they don’t know who to pick first or last. You can use this trick if you have open enrolment.)
     
  3. I often let the students pick teams completely on their own. I say something like, “Here is your assignment. Get into groups of three or four and get it done by 1:00 p.m.” When I do this, nine times out of 10 the project is not done on time and/or not done very well. I do this for a reason. I want the students to realize that working with people you like is often more difficult than working with people you don’t like. They learn the hard way that feelings get hurt and there are too many distractions working with close friends.
     
  4. Like everyone else, occasionally I resort to the toque (“chef hat”) technique of drawing teams from a hat. There are several variations on this that I like to use:
  • Place an even amount of each number for the same number of teams. For example, if you have 20 students and want four teams, you will have five slips with the number 1, five slips with the number 2, five slips with the number 3 and five slips with the number 4.
  • If you want each group to work on the same part of a menu (and again let’s assume four teams for 20 students), you would write five slips with the key words, such as “salad,” “entrée,” “vegetable” and “dessert.”
  • .If you want each group to work on the same ingredient (and again let’s assume four teams), you would write words such as “cauliflower,” “chicken,” “broccoli” and “cream cheese” with each word on four slips.
  1. Frequently I pick the teams—not at random, but making a conscientious choice on who I am choosing. I do this in different ways, including:
  • Since I have four different levels of students in my class at any one time, I often pick teams that have one student from each level.
  • I pick teams based on ethnic background. Then I do one of two very different things: I have the group prepare an ethnic dish as authentically as possible for everyone to try, OR I completely shake things up by taking the group out of their comfort zone. For example, I will have the Filipino group prepare gumbo, the African Americans prepare chicken adobo, the Latinos prepare seafood pasta, etc. If you don’t have enough time to do these two things you can either have groups make cookies from their culture, OR have the groups make cookies from another culture.
  1. My favourite team-picking exercise is, I must admit, devilish. I pick team leaders who aren’t friends. I then have each team leader pick the rest of his or her team not in rotation, but all at once. Of course, everyone picks their good friends. (The reason the team leaders are not friends is because I want each team to be a team of friends.) I then turn to each group: “Team One Leader, are you happy with your team?” She looks at me and smiles and gives me a thumbs up. “Team Two Leader, are you happy with your team?” An excited “Yes, Chef” comes in reply. I do the same with the other teams. I then say, “Team One Leader switch place with Team Four Leader, Team Two Leader switch place with Team Three Leaders.” Of course, everyone groans.

I explain to the students that I do this because when you go to work, you don’t get to pick who your boss will be. I further explain that when they become low-level managers, they won’t get to pick who they supervise.

The next day, I have students pick their teams the same way. The students think that they can outsmart me, and they pick people they don’t really like. (I often see students planning this in the morning, debating who will pick whom.) Of course, since I am devious, I don’t switch team leaders on Day Two. Again, more groans. Guess what I say? I reiterate that when they go to work and when they become low-level managers, they have to work with the people on their team no matter what they think of them. The only problem with this technique is you can realistically only do it once or twice a month.

In November 2012, I jointly wrote an article with Windi Hughes on how to manage teams so that the work is distributed evenly and fairly among the team members.


Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula.

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