The secret to creating high performing teams

1: “When I first walk into any restaurant or any business,” acclaimed restauranteur Danny Meyer writes in his terrific book Setting the Table, “I can immediately guess what type of experience I’m in for by sensing whether the staff members appear to be focused on their work, supportive of one another, and enjoying one another’s company.  If they are out to help one another succeed, I know I stand an excellent chance of having an excellent experience accompanied by a feeling of welcome.”

As the Founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny and his team have created some of New York’s most beloved restaurants, cafes, and bars (currently 18 venues).  He is also the creator of Shake Shack, which now has more than 250 locations all over the world.

Yesterday, we explored Danny’s business philosophy which intentionally puts the interests of his team members above all other stakeholders.  Including his clients. 

Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant kitchen understands the difficult working conditions: when “the kitchen is hot, with up to thirty people racing around while performing tough tasks in tight quarters. It’s tense,” Danny observes.

2: The secret to building a high performing team?

It starts with mutual trust and respect.  Which Danny believes are “the most powerful tools for building an energetic, motivated, winning team in any field…  The primary reason we have such a loyal and dedicated staff (in a fickle industry notorious for high turnover), is that we understand what people want most from their workplace is to respect and be respected.  And it certainly helps to know that their honest day’s work—mistakes and all—is appreciated.”

What happens when a workplace is high on trust and respect?

“People are continually looking for opportunities to help one another,” writes Danny.  “That infectious spirit becomes the culture.  That reciprocally uplifting feeling then translates into a better product because managers help waiters, waiters help cooks, cooks help waiters, and cooks help cooks.”

What does Danny believe is the key to being a great place to work?

“It is the value of the human experience we have with our colleagues—what we learn from one another, how much fun we have working together, and how much mutual respect and trust we share—that has the greatest influence on job satisfaction.

3: In Setting the Table, Danny outlines one of the unique benefits of working at one of his restaurants: “We conduct a monthly dining-voucher program for all staff members with at least three months’ tenure that allows them to dine at any of our restaurants using a credit.”  

This benefit also is a strategic choice,  he explains: “The catch is that in exchange for the credit, employees must answer a detailed questionnaire about their dining experience.”

Experiencing the restaurant as a client creates a heightened sense of what great service looks like: “They are expert at observing their colleagues in the dining room, tasting the food they know so well, and assessing the restaurant’s overall performance,” Danny writes.  “Above all, the program sends our own team a crucial message: ‘We respect, trust, and care enough about you to actively seek and value your input.'”

More tomorrow.

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Reflection:  How would I describe my organization’s workplace culture?  Are any of Danny’s ideas or practices worth exploring further?  

Action:  Discuss with a colleague or at my next team meeting.

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