Team building — The two words dangled over a recent cell phone call between my client and me.
By KIMBERLY WINTER STERN
They were simple enough. Combined I knew exactly what they meant.
Team building, in its broadest sense, represents a wide range of activities designed to improve team performance. In a corporate setting, team building is a philosophy where employees are regarded as members of an interdependent team rather than individual works.
My client wanted to know if I had any suggestions.
“Sure,” I answered. “You’ll have ideas by end of the day.”
Pondering potential team-building scenarios, I was stuck between a simultaneous sense of responsibility and anxiety.
Suggest “team building” to a bunch of people who work day-in, day-out with one another and the almost-universal reaction can be summed up in three letters when, used in sequential order, spell dread: OMG.
In other words, employees requested to attend a team-building exercise would often rather grit their teeth through a month’s worth of lunch-hour webinars than spend precious after-hours developing camaraderie.
And then I remembered a program offered by The Culinary of Kansas City in Overland Park, a popular hub of interactive cooking classes and other events.
Laura Laiben, owner of The Culinary Center, needed to find innovative solutions to challenges following the economic downturn of 2008 — a historic situation that forced many of us to take a long, hard look at not only how business is conducted or life is fiscally lived, but how responsibly we give back to the greater good.
Laiben, a.k.a. Main Dish on The Culinary Center’s organizational chart, defined her creative brainstorm as “social entrepreneurship.”
“We had a roster of team-building classes, but corporate budgets were pulled back,” said Laiben, a former lawyer who started The Culinary Center City 16 years ago.
“I asked clients for feedback. After listening to them, I decided to launch a team-building program at The Culinary Center that would not only be worthwhile for employers and employees, but would also benefit the community.”
Enter All Hands for Hunger, which literally feeds the needs of the community.
Clients choose from several different programs — including All Hands in the Cookie Jar, All Hands in the Pie Pan and others — where employees enjoy a meal together and then prepare that meal in teams for one of more than 25 different nonprofit organizations charities enrolled with The Culinary Center.
Maria Dickson, Manager of Merriment at The Culinary Center, said since Jan. 1, All Hands participants have prepared more than 8,000 servings for 13 different area charities.
“It’s amazing what happens when people come together and do this. All Hands is not only great fun, but it gives back to the community, to those in need.”
My client chose the All Hands for Hunger program, with Mattie Rhodes Center as the beneficiary of the three-hour team-building experience.
I asked to tag along to see how a culinary team-building program with a social pay-off worked.
Boy, was I surprised.
We started with a delicious meal from The Culinary Center’s chefs: Caesar salad, house-made focaccia with a dipping sauce, chicken scallopini with pasta, tomato bisque and apple crisp.
Our group’s collective mission was to recreate the entrée casserole-style and the soup for the Mattie Rhodes Center.
Glasses of wine were poured and the mistress of ceremonies, The Culinary Center’s Dean of Deliciousness Tekia Thompson, introduced herself and Concierge Culinario Heather Minor.
A Mattie Rhodes representative spoke briefly about the organization that would receive the sustenance as a result of the teamwork about to ensue.
Twenty-five of us divided into four teams, donned aprons and read instructions placed at each workstation.
Each team’s objective: to work together to prepare 12 each of the designated entrée and soup and be the first team to complete the task.
The Culinary Center left no stone unturned. Each workstation was neatly arranged with pre-portioned ingredients, recipes and necessary utensils. Dishwashers stood by to whisk away dirty bowls and cutting boards.
Thompson and Minor circulated as onions, mushrooms and garlic were chopped. They took notes on clipboards about the teams and their personalities, strengths and weaknesses.
They offered words of encouragement to those with less-than-stellar knife skills, cracked jokes and offered pointers for opening large cans of tomatoes and pureeing soup.
The group temperature went from a polite simmer to a raucous boil as the evening progressed.
Although the convivial atmosphere was less Iron Chef and more sketch comedy, each team reached their goal. Even the stragglers were in good spirits.
As a finale, labels penned with inspirational words were applied to the sea of containers filled with chicken scallopini and tomato bisque.
“We HEART You,” “Food for the Soul,” “Love is the recipe of life.”
Teams completed packaging the food and reassembled as Thompson kicked off the awards ceremony. Toy crowns were distributed to the team dubbed the “Kitchen Divas” and the overall winner for team enthusiasm received fans. A team member with ninja knife skills was recognized.
Another Culinary Center employee sampled soups from the four teams and declared a taste champion.
There were hoots and hollers, high-fives and fist bumping.
As we filtered from The Culinary Center to go home, stomachs full and a sense of accomplishment for working together to make a difference in the lives of others, it was obvious that the Main Dish, Dean of Deliciousness, Concierge Culinario and other Culinary Center employees had orchestrated a painless team-building menu.
The main course of the All Hands for Hunger program?
A healthy helping of community-minded camaraderie.
For more information on All Hands for Hunger or other team-building programs at The Culinary Center of Kansas City, visit kcculinary.com .
Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.