Organizations are constantly looking for new ways to foster trust, respect, and team building among employees, and new research (Kniffin, Wansink, Devine, & Sobal, 2015) suggests a relationship between eating behavior and team performance. The researchers surveyed a group of 395 firefighting officers from 13 American firehouses.
Participants were asked a set of questions about perceived food consumption, social norms among their work-groups (including the degree to which firefighters eat together), their perceptions about the importance of food in the firehouse, the frequency of communal cooking among their platoon, and the method by which funds are pooled for group meals. These firefighters were also asked questions about cooperative behavior at work as well as their level of overall job satisfaction. Group officers, or shift leaders who serve a supervisory role in these fire-stations, were asked to rate the work-group performance of their current platoon compared to the performance of other platoons they have previously served with in other locations.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY: TEAM COOPERATION
The study found significant relationships between work-group performance and team eating and cooking behavior. Group officers reported more cooperative behavior within units that routinely cook and eat together compared to those units that cook and eat together less frequently.
Before you buy the soy sauce and cilantro for your next team dinner, keep in mind that firefighting is a unique profession, where communal dinners are the norm. Team dynamics and job requirements may be quite different than those demanded by a corporate or professional services role. Further, the current study was a correlational-style field study, and thus it would not be appropriate to draw causal conclusions from this research.
However, the study does provide a basis for suggesting that cooperative team activities may lead to valuable group-level benefits. Eating is one of our most primal and basic needs, cutting across all divides and connecting all people of the human race. Whereas individual goals and desires in our personal lives and at work make each one of us unique, shared eating can remind us that despite our many differences, we are all cut from the same cloth.
Organizations and HR leaders should think carefully about how they can leverage employees’ natural need to eat to enhance organizational performance. If designed appropriately, the company cafeteria can serve as a great place to brainstorm ideas and get creative juices going. Group cooking lessons and team dinner outings can also serve to bring colleagues together, encouraging coworkers to share laughs and build a community as they share the breadbasket.