Some say challenging physical activities or volunteering are great vehicles for teambuilding. I don’t doubt that. However, a much more reliably enjoyable way to bond is over a great meal and drinks at a nice restaurant. Even if you have to give employees a budget for how much the table or each person can spend that evening, it will still be fun and useful for the team to dine together.
Camaraderie and Communication
When you’re relaxed, you not only get to know each other better, but grievances can be aired in a non-threatening manner. If the manager is present at the table, it’s a great opportunity for them to learn how their employees really feel about their jobs and the company. Everyone at the table might laugh together, for instance, about a Human Resources protocol that’s driving them crazy and negatively impacting productivity. Or they may all lament together the new hire in a different department they now have to interact with, who is spreading negative energy into the manager’s department.
Team dinners also give managers a chance to observe how employees interact with each other, including the chemistry and stress points or awkwardness between employees. Is there one employee at the table who seems to stay apart from the conversation and laughter? Are there snide comments exchanged over the laughter and smiles?
Jershini Rajan, a contributor to the LinkedIn blog, shared her thoughts for whether team dinners are important, noting multiple advantages. Among those advantages are bonding and camaraderie and improved communication that extend well past the end of the meal: “Informal settings like team dinners encourage open and casual conversations. It allows team members to communicate more freely, share their thoughts, and exchange ideas. When team members feel comfortable with one another, they are more likely to communicate effectively, leading to better collaboration and problem solving within the team.”
Spending time together informally in an enjoyable setting can be as instructive for employees as for their manager. Just as the manager learns about employees’ feelings, and their relationships with each other, employees at the dinner learn about their colleagues’ personalities. Their colleagues may share pet peeves that shed light on why they come across as annoyed at times in the office.
For example, an employee might share that their personality is to wake up an hour early every morning to scour their house from top to bottom before leaving for the office. It turns out this employee shares an office with another employee who is clearly not fanatical about cleanliness and organization, and come to think of it, no one else in work group has that same tendency. The other employees might realize that they have to make an effort when doing work with this particular colleague to keep their part of the project highly organized with neat electronic or paper folders.
Another employee might share that their son will be home for the summer from college and that they’re hoping to spend time with him. Their colleagues might decide, after hearing that, to work out a schedule in which they enable their teammate to adjust their schedule to spend more time at home when their son will be there and available to spend time with them.
Thanks and Recognition
An indulgent dinner with the team is also a way for a manager to say thank you, and for the manager to publicly give recognition for a job well done, Rajan writes: “Team dinners provide an opportunity for recognition and appreciation. Celebrating achievements or milestones during these gatherings boosts team morale and motivation. It reinforces the sense of belonging and reminds team members that their efforts are valued, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity.”
There can be a mentality in organizations that indulgent dinners, and other fun, company-sponsored activities, such as going to see a show together, are only for entertaining clients. It should never be forgotten that your employees are your first and most important “clients.” A team dinner is a comparatively easy way to show them they count, too. In the process, the manager and employees will enjoy the benefits of getting to know each other better.
Does your organization encourage team dinners? Do you offer tips or guidance to managers to make these dinners as impactful as possible?