I love shiny new toys in the nonprofit tech realm, but even I have to admit that they're not a panacea. In addition to technology, sometimes it takes old-school solutions to help improve things. And by "things," I mean internal communication; and by "old-school solutions," I mean food.
Because if there's one thing I learned growing up in Minnesota, it's that food brings people together. All my family gatherings featured food enough for an army, and every birthday party I went to had enough cake and ice cream to feed twice the number of people who showed up. And, of course, the offer of a pizza party was always the easiest way to bribe kids to read more books in school.
Food changes the tone
By the time I got to college, I was already applying what I'd learned from family gatherings, birthday parties and incentive-based pizza parties. One of my early jobs was to check people's I.D.'s after 7 p.m. and sign in visitors to our residence hall. Though it was the understood policy, people always grumbled about pulling out their I.D.s when they walked through the door, so I set up a dish of M&Ms to ingratiate myself to the masses. It changed the interaction from "I have to stop and dig out my I.D. when I have other stuff to do" to "Hey, free M&Ms. What did you want? Oh, no problem, here's my I.D."
After that, I started bringing homemade goodies every time I started a new job, to make a good first impression. It always helps.
Food helps you gather intel
At my first job out of college, we had a sanctified afternoon break time, where our small staff would chat while snacking on chips in the break room.
Not only did these breaks help us get to know each other better, they helped us find out some critical bits of information that might have otherwise gotten lost. Though the intention of the break time was simple relaxation, these breaks helped us work together better and get a clearer picture of the problems and people we were dealing with, day-to-day.
Food improves your productivity
Since then, I've been a big believer in improving internal communications with food. At KaBOOM!, we had a seriously tricked-out, customized database for all our internal communication needs, but I found that PB&J Days were especially helpful in giving me a better understanding of the organization and my coworkers. At PB&J Days, we'd get together, make sandwiches, and sit and eat, often with people in other departments with whom we didn't often interact. It was amazing how much you'd learn or what kinds of connections you'd develop simply by having a sandwich with somebody. It gave us a better picture of the organization's various moving parts, and the challenges our coworkers faced. Sometimes, brilliant brainstorms for new campaigns would start from a conversation during PB&J Days. It was truly amazing to watch.
Ideas for creating a food culture at your office
And even though our staff at Small Act is small, we keep the food tradition going. Before I arrived, our Chief Love Officer started "soup days," which occurred about once a month. She'd bring a big slow cooker full of homemade soup for us. Soon, that snowballed into:
- Cookout days (we bought a small charcoal grill)
- Nacho day (everyone brought a different component)
- Grilled cheese & tomato soup days (yay for my panini grill)
- Waffle days (I brought batter & the iron, others brought juice and toppings)
We often do these mini-celebrations on Mondays, so we have something to look forward to on the darkest day of the week. We typically do these once every month or two, so we don't get overwhelmed with treats; and we work hard to be conscious of each other's dietary restrictions, so nobody feels left out.
Cultivating a "food culture" has helped the places I've worked develop better internal communications. What has your experience been?