#13: The lunch bunch

5 ways to honor the ancient tradition of sharing meals at work

lunch bunch.jpeg

I‘ve never seen a chapter in a book on leadership or business focused on eating lunch together. Yet for us, this simple, daily rhythm is a cornerstone of our culture.

When we eat together, we talk. When we talk, we start to understand each other. When we understand each other, we have a better chance of enjoying one another. And as we’ve seen — when we enjoy one another, it becomes increasingly hard to distinguish between work and play throughout the day.

–––

Some of my most powerful memories from childhood stem from nights when we gathered — as a family with six kids — around the kitchen table for dinner. Now, I see the same thing happening at Civilla: meal times are spent sharing stories, exchanging ideas, and most importantly, enjoying lots of laughter.

I have long heard about the abundance of research that confirms the importance of families eating together. But how about teams in the workplace? A recent study at Cornell University demonstrated the benefits of sharing meals together at work: when teams eat together, they perform better than those that don’t.

While a helpful perspective, our team’s commitment to sharing meals together isn’t rooted in a desire to improve efficiency. Instead, it stems from the observation that people can work side-by-side for years without actually knowing each other. Sharing a daily meal is one way that we that we strengthen our culture and grow our relationships with one another.

The tradition of sharing food and connecting over meals is as old as humankind. Yet, how often do you see people in today’s work environment grabbing lunch to-go in between meetings? Or eating at their cubicle while tending to other tasks? As it turns out, 65% of working Americans either eat lunch alone while at their desks or not at all.

How might we return to the ancient tradition of sharing meals in our places of work?

Here are 5 tactics we use to help us gather for lunch at work:

  1. A consistent time: Our team gathers at noon each day and sets aside an hour for lunch. Does everyone make it at noon? No. Is everyone able to make it for the full hour? No. But on any day of the week, if you walk into Civilla during the noon hour you will see members of the team gathered around the table sharing a meal.

  2. A place to gather: At Civilla, we have a dedicated space in the studio where we come together to eat: the front table. The table (designed by Steelcase and donated by our friends at NBS) has become one of the most important pieces of furniture in the organization. Its size and shape allow us to circle up as a team and engage in conversation while breaking bread.

  3. Bring your own: We have fostered a culture that encourages preparing and bringing food from home. As a young team, this is in part because we don’t have a cafeteria or the ability to cater a daily meal. But we’ve also found it to be a great source of connection: some of my favorite lunches are spent chatting excitedly about some new dish a team member has created, or sharing stories about a family recipe when food starts to get passed around.

  4. A time for laughter: From our vantage point, one indicator of a healthy workplace is measured by the amount of laughter that takes place each day. Too often, workplaces feel like a library. There’s no time of day when laughter is more abundant at Civilla than at lunch. When we hear laughter ringing out from the front table — and not just a quiet chuckle, but full belly laughs — it signals that the group has started to gather and others quickly join in.

  5. The lunch chime: The use of music in the workplace carries with it much debate and some controversy. We have been prototyping with music at Civilla since the organization formed. One way we use music is to signal that it is time for lunch: when the clock strikes noon, jazz begins to play quietly throughout the space. The music serves not only as a reminder, but also as a permission slip of sorts. It’s as if to say: it’s okay to pause what you’re doing, step away from the task at hand, and nourish yourself in the company of teammates.

— Mike + the team



Adam Selzer