Team building is probably the most challenging part of taking over or starting a restaurant. Most of the key players in a restaurant management team come from different backgrounds. Each has a distinct personality and management style. Some will work out. Many will not work out. What is, then, the first step of team-building?
1. Vision Statement. In my experience, I’ve started with a vision statement which states the goals and the optimum behavior for each person. These points are solely about how members of the organization are to deal with their tasks and with one another; e.g. transparency, communication, respect, etc. It’s very important that the team take this seriously and set time aside each meeting to review it and update it if necessary. It’s shocking how little managers pay attention to stated goals. Enforcing the vision statement requires constant, daily action. Often you will have to correct a manager 5 minutes after the meeting on the vision statement has ended. Be vigilant. it takes time and perseverance before the team is truly “on the same page”.
2. Critical Path goals for all and for each manager. Remind the managers often that their goals and how well they achieve them are how they will be evaluated. It’s not about loyalty to one clique within the team. No, the managers must be acutely aware that where they stand with their goals is where they stand with the company. Just as with the vision statement, this is a source of constant review and evaluation. Critical Path goals might include hitting a certain labor %, or coming up with menu proposals, etc. These goals should not be open ended. They aren’t suggestions and they NEED a due date attached to them. Here is where you divide the work load and give team members a clear target to reach.
3. Positive Reinforcement. Your team members will be less likely to do what you want if you never complement them for doing what you want. A psychiatrist friend once told me that his youth would have been a lot better had his parents used the same training program on him that they used on the family dog. Positive actions should get positive responses, just like training a dog. We are natural beings and we expect and deserve a pat on the back when me meet our goals. I have worked in organizations where not one positive thing was said, ever, by top management. A glowing email from a big client praising my handling of their Christmas party was met with complete silence from upper echelon of corporate managers. I know how unconnected to the team that made me feel. Thus I know how a void of positive reinforcement can sabotage a team. Also included in this principle is that positives should precede the negatives when discussing the issues at a managers’ meeting. Furthermore, false positives are as useful as no positives. “You did good getting the food out. Now, if we could just get the pantry guy to wear gloves….” As Jesus might say, let your positives be positives and your negatives be negatives. Pointing out positives is the first thing that a lead manager does in a meeting. If you don’t complement the team on the positive things they are accomplishing, they will be less likely to continue doing them.
4. Meetings; frequent, formal and informal. A weekly managers’ meeting is essential to building a team. Managers must be trained to write down issues and ideas they have so as to bring them up at the managers’ meeting. Managers must also be trained to take notes. It never ceases to amaze me when I see managers without a pen and paper in hand during an important meeting. They should be told to take notes or else they will be dismissed from the meeting. The restaurant industry has a lot of managers who resist order in an organization. They must be retrained or removed. If meetings are to build the team, then serious team members will have something to bring to the table, and be prepared to take away the management goals by writing them down. Each shift should start with an informal managers’ meeting. With the fast pace of change (policy changes, new promotions, schedule changes, etc.) in a restaurant, managers need to be on top more than ever and communicate more clearly than ever before. Another point about meeting is the personal one-on-one. I would like to improve on this myself; taking that extra step to go for coffee, lunch, or even a drink with a team member to discuss pressing issues. Leaving the confines of the workplace is like meeting outside the walls of the fortress. The team member is less likely to feel the karma of the daily grind. [Obviously, going for a drink does not mean getting drunk with them. Limit one.] It’s important to meet the team member on a turf where they are comfortable.
5. Management Evaluations. Every manager needs to know what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, and why. Lead managers tend to skirt this responsibility to a point where the manager is not aware that a problem is developing that could hurt their chances of staying at the company. This is why so many managers complain of being “blindsided”; being fired without ever being written up. Coaching and Training Logs and Employee Warnings are for managers, too. I like the C & T Log because it establishes that a conversation occurred regarding critical training points. When those points are not followed, an employee warning is next. Then dismissal. Management Evaluations are a way to communicate positives and negatives of a manager’s performance. They are not easy for the supervisor who has to point out the bad qualities of the manager that need to change, but they are literally a lifeline to job security for the team member. As always with a management evaluation, cite the problem action, not the person. Be specific when bringing up a critique, and use examples. All evaluations must be carefully measured. Keep in mind, letting go of a member of the team who is underperforming or being insubordinate is necessary in building the right team.
6. Clear Communication Channels. A lot of misunderstandings can arise in a team through email. Certain guidelines are needed to keep email communications from developing into “email chatter”. What is email chatter? Well, it’s when everyone chimes in, often without fully reading the initial email at the top of the thread. Emails can degenerate quickly into consequential misunderstandings and hostile fights between team members. Points for email are no trivial or self-serving emails (the email has to convey a significant new point), no using of emails to change schedules or meeting times at the last minute, and no emails for some to see and not others. Another clear communication channel is the good old Log Book, the long red daily diary where managers can write down important points; employee X no show, reservation for 50 at 8 pm, our new House Tequila is Jimador Blanco, etc. What belongs in the Log Book is clearly stated. Even if an email was sent, the notes need to be written down in the Log. This is an opportunity to log whether there were liquor incidents; e.g. cut off customer X at 8 pm, called a taxi for him or “No liquor incident tonight”.
7. Careful Team Planning. Last, the movement forward comes through tapping your team’s resources and planning new strategies together. Guidelines for changes such as menu makeovers are to be carefully done with team spirit. For an example of planning menu changes, click here. In each planning stage, everyone is included in the process not to please their egos but to do the best job the team can do. It’s human nature to be ego-centered and not team-centered.
8. Not “I” or “We” but “The Company”. Your vision statement puts the company first before the “I”, or even the “we”. The key to being a good team-builder is to make tangible the concept that the team exists for the company above all. Then it will be easier to move forward as a single coherent team to be as successful as you possibly can be.