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While this post’s title is patently false, curiously any sample of historical evidence from my life would backtest very well. I’m fortunate that my wife and I share that sliver of a Venn diagram representing couples who enjoy cooking together (if you believe me) and who cook delicious meals together (if you believe our guests).

per-capita-consumption-of-mozzarella-cheese-us_lawyers-in-hawaii

Well, we do serve cheese often, but… [credit: tylervigen.com]

This is not a cooking blog, so let’s focus on the principles that make us an effective team:

Be Accountable for Outcomes, Not Tasks

It’s possible to assemble perfectly prepared ingredients into a terrible meal. Rather than assigning responsibility for strictly defined steps in a process, delegate outcomes and give flexibility in the steps to achieve them. In our kitchen, this means we each take ownership of a course in the meal or a finished product on the plate, instead of the specific steps across the meal (chop, saute, sauce, etc.). In the office, the same approach ensures focus on the deliverables with space for innovation and learning in the method.

Separate Where You Work, and How You Work Matters Less

In our kitchen, one of us leaves a trail of dirty dishes, a cluttered and dirty counter, and a splattered stove top behind us, and the other keeps it relatively clean. When we are working in our own corners of the kitchen (or in the first kitchen we shared, our own ends of the tiny counter), there’s no problem. At the office, some people like to sit, others stand or walk; some spread papers over every inch of desk and leave ink on every inch of whiteboard, others…don’t. People have similar diversity in approaching a project: some prefer an intricate Gantt chart, others work best under the pressure of a looming deadline. It’s more likely that colleagues will have a differing style than identical ones, so find space in the office to prevent friction among team members.

Escalate Early, Prioritize Often

Surprises are inevitable in our kitchen; that’s part of the fun. What helps us navigate these surprises as a cooking team is keeping each other informed as the facts change, and based on the implications, constantly evaluating the plan. Half of the peaches in the farmer’s market bag are rotten? If we don’t get more fruit, we won’t have a dessert. Ok, add cherries and change it from a torte to a cobbler. In the office, many people fear that sharing “bad news” means admitting weakness or incompetence. They worry this will distract or irritate the boss. Instead, treat unexpected events as an opportunity to practice risk assessment and prioritization skills. Even if the new information doesn’t change the plan immediately, the entire team knows the current situation, which could change the outcome of the next decision.

Never Let a Customer Be The First To Test Your Final Product

I give extra respect to pastry chefs because they have to get the dish right the first time. Once the cake comes out of the oven, there’s no going back to tweak the batter. Whenever possible, our dishes come out best when we are constantly tasting each other’s food and adjusting flavors. In the office, test your ideas with colleagues, especially those with a different point of view. Let them help you find bias in your perspectives, or weak links in your reasoning. Leave an idea on your whiteboard and practice your elevator pitch with people who stop by. Find areas of concern or resistance to change in the organization in a non-threatening way. Not only will your work product improve, but when it comes to that “big kickoff meeting,” many people in the room will be familiar with the ideas and share a sense of ownership–because they helped develop the concepts along the way.

In the end, there is only one chef

Amidst the emphasis on collaboration, let’s not underestimate the need for leadership on a team. Especially in stressful or unfamiliar situations, teams perform better under decisive leadership. So don’t forget why you get paid the medium-sized bucks, and step up to lead when required. My wife knows how to do this in our kitchen, much to the benefit of our dinner guests.

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