When you see real teamwork in action, you never forget it.
Last Saturday, I went to a restaurant without a reservation. It was Saturday night, and it was packed. They put us on the wooden bar, right in front of the open kitchen. There were four cooks working in there, along with the service manager, the guy in charge of giving them the orders and organizing the work of the waiters in the room.
The menu was long enough to require a lot of preparation, called mise en place. There were many bottles, frying pans and pots full of ingredients, ready to be part of a plate. They all shared a space that couldn’t be larger than 3 square meters.
In my eyes, two rooms and a terrace full of customers seemed like a challenge. The number of orders at one time was gigantic.
High performing team
The service manager gave the orders and decided which plate would go first, grouping plates from different tables whenever it made sense to make cooking easier. The cooks were frenetic, but they didn’t forget to communicate.
Each order was followed by someone saying “copy”. If someone needed help, they asked for it.
At a certain time, they ran out of some ingredients. Some tables were delayed, and the rest of the orders piled up. No one got discouraged. They took care of what they could until someone came with what they needed. Then, of course, they speed up to regain momentum and keep no more customers waiting.
Half an hour later, the number of orders was so high that the service manager started to finish some of the plates, mainly desserts, to ease the workload of his fellow cooks. Until they could catch up.
All this without a single bad word or shouting match. Just cooperative hard work and great communication skills.
A high-performing team can’t be improvised when challenges arise, and this team had everything it needed to succeed: accountability, commitment, and a clear decision-making process.
Accountability and commitment
Once someone owned a plate by saying “copy,” the rest of the team forgot about it. Everyone knew what the others were doing, and roles were assigned according to their place in the kitchen. If a plate had to be cooked by two of them, they always communicated.
If one of them had to go to the storeroom, the others naturally took over. I felt that they were all one, aware of what was needed at any given moment.
Both accountability and commitment are important for great teamwork, but it’s nothing without a known decision-making process. The service manager took care of that. They encountered many difficulties in the service, but everyone trusted this guy and his criteria. They didn’t stop to argue what to do.
I must confess that during the two hours I was there, I was mesmerized by their way of working. They even had time for humor!
Teamwork is the ultimate demonstration of leadership. This team and its service manager set the stage for everyone to contribute at their highest level, and their trust in each other made things easier. It was a great lesson.