Instilling teamwork through creating common goals, effective communication, taking ownership, caring about the process and conflict resolution.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
This fall, we are discussing ways to build your classroom culture including: setting a tone for learning and professionalism; promoting cooperation and teamwork; striving for excellence; and honoring a commitment to quality ingredients, food safety, and security. Last month, we discussed the value of making mistakes and ways that openness to mistakes can contribute to a culture that encourages learning and experimentation. This month’s discussion focuses on promoting cooperation and teamwork.
Why Cooperation and Teamwork?
Cooperation is a standard practice in kitchens and dining rooms; it is a pillar of the brigade system and the operation of open kitchens. If the ingredients are not prepped accurately and in appropriate quantities, the cooks on the line cannot produce meals in a timely and consistent manner with a focus on quality. Cooperation and teamwork are the oxygen of the kitchen yet culinary educators sometimes overlook talking about them since there is an overwhelming and appropriate concern with teaching the many cooking skills needed for the industry during limited class time.
It often seems that everything about learning cooking involves individual attainment. Each student needs to learn, demonstrate, and practice a wide range of skills and the ability to produce consistently good food to become a professional. As Chef Jacques Pepin said, “You have no choice as a professional chef; you have to repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat until it becomes part of yourself. I certainly don't cook the same way I did 40 years ago, but the technique remains. And that's what the student needs to learn: the technique.” At the same time, Chef Pepin could not have done what he has done in his career without a team that consistently honored and practiced cooperation every day.
Some chefs consider cooperation and teamwork to be soft skills that belong in the communication and professionalism classes that accompany the basic culinary skill and global cuisine courses. However, first class chefs and excellent dining room managers know the value of teamwork and cooperation and find ways to encourage it at every opportunity. They know the only way to make a restaurant work effectively involves everyone knowing what has to happen and when and how. They continually preach the necessity and value of doing one’s best and helping each other do the best they can. Most of us have heard many chefs say there is no “I’ in teamwork!
Elements of Cooperation and Teamwork
There are many aspects of teamwork and cooperation; the most critical include: common goals, effective communication, ownership of performance, caring for others, and conflict management.
A group that has a common goal and members that know it and honor it is a functioning team. The members have accepted a group goal and are ready and able to contribute to it. Goals might include quality food, sustainability, farm-to-table cooking, use of exceptional ingredients, honoring a particular cuisine, or making the guests thrilled with their experience. If there is to be a team everyone has to agree with the particular goal. People who communicate easily and frequently with each other – regardless of the vocabulary or tone – also make a team. In addition, each person who takes responsibility for doing his or her assignment carefully, speedily, and effectively contributes to teamwork. Caring for others means recognizing what happens to team members and offering to help or assist when needed. It also means showing appreciation for other’s work. The last element – managing conflict – is essential when problems arise and potential difficulties need to be worked through with respect.
It may help students to understand these elements by talking about them or telling stories about eating in a restaurant where wait staff take joint ownership for tables versus restaurants which treat individual tables as territories of one staff person and make you wait to find your waitperson in order for that specific individual to pour more water, refresh the wine glasses, or provide the missing or correct flatware. There are other ways as well.
Encouraging Teamwork and Cooperation in Your Classroom
There are many ways to honor teamwork and cooperation. The easiest way is to demonstrate it with your behavior toward your colleagues, with the industry stories you tell and classroom activities. By establishing goals for each class session – called instructional objectives – you invite the students to cooperate with you to accomplish those goals. Putting students into teams and complimenting particularly obvious and effective teamwork is another way to honor it.
Encouraging students to provide honest and tactful feedback to each other also demonstrates how important you consider cooperation. The strategy of providing a few minutes of reflective time for sharing feedback to fellow team members at the end of class shows its importance. Asking teams of students to conduct the critique of products and service near the end of the class period also focuses their skills of providing useful and honest feedback. It also tests their knowledge of what the product or service should be or should have been. Requiring team assignments also puts a premium on working together. The comments I get from students who have to conduct a group observation – as opposed to other individual assignments – reminds me of how much they learn about working together by working together and providing feedback to each other.
Hopefully, this Mayo Clinic encourages you to spend some renewed attention on cooperating and teamwork during the semester. Especially now when so many assignments, tests and projects add stress to students’ academic lives.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.