Food As Social Glue: How To Make Teams More Productive

Why is the food industry attracting so much interest right now? And why is it worth it to invest into it? The fact is, food and beverage provide an opportunity to meet, connect and eat together in spaces that cannot be experienced via technology. The shared meal is a foundation of family life, the place where we as children learned the art of conversation by sharing, listening and navigating differences. Food acts as social glue, keeping people bound by real human connection - something that today’s fast-paced, hi-tech lives lack more than ever.

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A study from Cornell University is proving the importance of food in our communities. The tradition of sharing food as a mean of belonging, seems to continue in today’s workplaces. The study reveals that ‘sharing meals favors the tendency to collaborate, thereby promoting teamwork. Eating together is a way to get to know others better and strengthen relationships between members of a group.’ As food plays an important role in team building by creating intimacy which ‘spills back over into work,’ said Kevin Kniffin, Professor of Economics at Charles H. Dyson Cornell University and author of the study, he suggests teams to eat together on a regular basis to improve the team’s performance.

For team building purposes, we often see managers engaging in costly social activities and team building exercises led by consultants which don’t seem to have long-term effects on the company culture they’re trying to build. The out-of-the-context activities show a short-term effect but fail to engage teams on a long term. The priority instead should be to build and environment that allows vulnerability and gives confidence to people to speak out without fear on a daily basis. It’s about creating a ritual that is comparable to what most of us learned in our homes as children.

The study conducted by Professor Kniffin went so far to state that not eating together was a sign of the dysfunctions of a team: "During the study, we noticed that not sharing meal times was a signal that something deeper was wrong with the way the group worked, something that was then reflected in the team's performance." In short, eating alone makes you less efficient.

For this reason, according to the study, I would claim that companies can benefit from investments in employee experience by offering spaces where colleagues can share lunch, coffee breaks and dinner. After work drinks could become an effective means of improving company performance, too. While companies like Google or Amazon can offer a company bar and restaurant for employees, creating a collaborative food culture doesn’t need to be an unattainable perk for big players. The longer I’m working in that space, I see more and more small companies focussing on food spaces as a convivial alternative to the more traditional meeting rooms.