One of my favourite courses at business school was Group Management. Don’t let the name fool you, it was course that looked at scientific studies of psychology and group dynamics. We even had to analyze our own group dynamic, identifying power structures and problem-solving procedures, throughout the term.
And I learned about the importance of food to a successful group project.
You may be familiar with the group contract. Before engaging in group work, everyone gets together, drafts, and signs a contract for acceptable group behaviour. When I was first confronted with a group contract I was mostly confused that this sort of behaviour even thad to be written down. Things like showing up on time and completing assigned work. Most groups wrote down that if you showed up to a meeting over 10 minutes late you owed the rest of the group coffee. And in time for the second meeting, conveniently all details like this from the group contract were forgotten, or at least never enforced. What was the point of writing such a group contract?
We learned it is not the existence of the group contract that is meant to ensure a smoother group process, it is the process of making the contract itself that provides the group with an opportunity to subconsciously sort out some of the power structure before they have to work on the main task.
So getting together to make a contract before the project helps make the project go a bit smoother. You know what works even better?
Food’s a social ritual. And sharing that ritual with others creates a bond, however small, helping mitigate conflict. Think of it this way: if you’ve already shared a beer with someone, you’re less likely to snap at them the first time they make a mistake on a group project. Plus, this was scientifically proven. With N values and R squares and everything.
I like to think of it as a caveman instinct. Food was crucial to life. So much more crucial to life than I will ever know (pretty sure even if I go on the Paleo diet). Sharing in food depended on trust and group work and power. Later on the communal breaking of bread held gravity after fasting. Whether it be an profound spiritual event or your morning Cheerios, we hold the importance of partaking in a meal with us most everywhere.
There was even a study that showed that some foods work better for teambuilding. Cake, for example, works better than cupcakes because of the added ritual of cutting and serving the cake. Ever notice who’s the one to volunteer to cut the cake? Who inevitably starts passing the slices down the line? Who asks to make sure everyone’s had a piece? These are power structures making themselves known. Pizza’s good, as long as everyone pulls their own slices from the box (taking parts of a whole) rather than having slices pre-served on individual plates. Pasta salads that starts in a large bowl works fine, even better if it’s served family-style.
(These thoughts were going through my head all day at Paul Nazareth’s cupcake networking event.)
Food, not just for bribing people to come to your event anymore! It’s an important part of a balanced group work experience.
Like food? Definitely look in to Salt: A World History and Botany of Desire, which takes you through the history of the the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. They were great reads, and I hope soon to ready the history of sugar. Hey, I love historical nonfiction and food.
What’s your take on this? Am I blinded by my love of food, or are you pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?