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Building a Team

Just as the performance of an automobile is only as great as the mechanical components under the hood, the success of a business is dependent upon the effectiveness of it's team. Building a strong culinary team is more than just hiring enough people to fill the schedule. It's also more than hiring, based solely on experience and skill set. The strategies for building a team vary based on the type of operation, the style of service, and the style of leadership. It's important to point out that whether you're starting out as a manger or Chef at a new job, or are looking to start over where you currently are, it'll be very difficult to build your ideal team without the support from your upper management. If you're interviewing for a job, you should try to get a sense for your ability to build the right team, before you commit. For example, one question that I always asked when interviewing for Executive Chef jobs was "are any of the employees in the Culinary Department 'protected?'" This was my way of finding out if anyone was going to get in my way when I was building my team or if they truly trusted in my ability to do the best thing for the operation. Once you have an effective team, it the becomes crucial that you constantly work to maintain it.

Starting Fresh

When you're just starting out in a new kitchen, it's important to develop an initial plan of attack to help you evaluate the team that you've just inherited and from that, implement a plan to build upon it. One of the first things that I like to do is set up one on one meetings with every member of my team, no matter what position they hold. Everyone from dishwashers to Sous Chefs. Take 10-15 minutes to speak to each team member and learn a little about them and how they feel regarding the state of things. I also set up one on one meetings with every department head or manager that I feel has significant contact with the Culinary Department. I do this to get a sense for their current perspective of back of house operations and what I might be able to do to make the relationship between my department and theirs a better one. The next step is observing the team at work. Identifying personality traits as well as technical abilities are equally important. Get a feel for the synergy of the team and look for possible "toxins" that could potentially contribute to a negative vibe. With the amount of hours we spend together at work, it's paramount that we enjoy being together and have a certain level of respect and trust in one another. Without that, there's no amount of skill that will keep the team together and the product consistent. There are 3 main categories that I put people in once I've collected all of my initial data. The first category are the ones that I know are the right fit and will ultimately be along for the ride. The second, are those that have some weaknesses, either personally or technically but I get the sense that I can get them on the same page. The third category, are those that I believe will have no chance for survival. This conclusion is formed when an individual displays certain personality traits that are counterproductive to the overall vision and just do not match up with the ideals and character traits that I need my team to have. My biggest pet peeve in life is negativity, and I quickly eliminate it whenever it appears. I won't get into specifics on what these traits might be, because as I mentioned earlier, your leadership style is going to dictate what is the correct mindset for your team to have.

Build From the Top Down

Once I have my three categories set, I begin the building process by focusing on my leadership team. It's important that your Sous Chefs share your vision for the future and embrace your style of management. They need to be an extension of you when you're not around, so without that buy in, it just won't work. When you have a strong leadership team overseeing the main parts of the operation, you have achieved what runners refer to as a "strong core." The muscles in your body that do most of the work while running, cannot fire properly and efficiently without strong support from other areas. Trying to run without a strong core is like trying to fire a cannon in a canoe. As long as your Sous Chefs are on board and up to the task, you are virtually unstoppable. Once you have this in place, it's time to start building the line level team. Don't just hire credentials. Skill is great and it's natural that we would want to hire every applicant that comes through the door with an impressive resume. Although you want to have enough skilled cooks to be able to meet the standards, having some less experienced cooks is actually beneficial for the team culture. Educating breeds education. One of the best ways to learn, is to teach. I always enjoy having interns in the kitchen. They keep us all on our toes and remind us of where we came from. They force us to go back and re-learn some of the fundamentals that we may not use every day. Now more than ever, it's important that we commit ourselves to educating the next generation. We can either keep complaining about how difficult it is to find quality cooks these days, or we can be the ones who create them.

Team 2.0

Once you have the right team in place, you need to realize that the work is not over. It needs to transition from building to maintaining. I recently read a post on social media that was made by an upper level manager and stated that long tenured staff tend to become entitled and potentially even unethical over time. She mentioned that they become difficult to deal with and feel like the company owes them something. The alarming part of this post to me was the comments being made by other managers who chimed in. Most of them confirmed this behavior and stated their confirmation with a very "that's how it goes" tone. They made it seem like it was inevitable that employees will become "broken" over time. I do admit that the behavior is a definite possibility and very common, but we need to look at ourselves as leaders and ask what we could have done to prevent it. Just as computers and cell phones require periodic updates in order to perform at a high level, so do our team members. It's up to us to keep them in the loop and keep them motivated and positive at all times. Even through a global pandemic. Probably more than ever during a pandemic. We have the power to drive morale but we also have the power to destroy it. The performance review and paycheck is not enough to maintain a healthy mindset in your staff. Real engagement and constant communication both need to evolve on an ongoing basis. Build, update, and reboot.

To learn more about how Be Better Culinary Perspectives can help you build and maintain your team go to and contact us today!

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