Cave man food (but hipster sandwiches are good, too).

Great teams eat together. You know, like cave men did.

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” — Oscar Wilde

Last Sunday night I had dinner with the manager of our European office, Dariusz Fryta. We chatted about company team building activities, because we’re in a business where team chemistry is everything.

“The most important activity is eating together”, Dariusz said, “It’s a primordial thing, built into our DNA from the time of cave men and woolly mammoths”. We both laughed.

But actually I think he’s right. An essential part of the human experience is enjoying meals together. The people we eat with become part of our tribe. There’s a bond that happens when humans share food and laughter together.

In fact, there is research on this. A study from Cornell University found that employees who ate meals together had significantly better team performance at work than those who didn’t.

Published in: Kevin M. Kniffin; Brian Wansink; Carol M. Devine; Jeffery Sobal; Human Performance 2015, 28, 281–306.

And this maps pretty well to my own experience as a CEO. I’ve organized river rafting trips for my teams, spa weekends in the wine country, outings to baseball games, sailing trips, and much more. But I’ve realized that it’s really just simply over good meals together that lasting bonds are built.

Every manager is looking for the secret to building that elusive chemistry that makes for high-achieving teams. We all want it. A couple years ago a study was published called “The New Science of Building Great Teams”, and after looking at 21 organizations and 2500 employees over 7 years, the study concluded that these things matter:

  • Regular face-to-face communication between team members.
  • Creating an environment where everybody talks and listens in equal measure (ie, not just the leaders are doing the talking).
  • Social time together accounts for more than 50% of the variance between high-performing and low-performing teams.
  • High performing teams tend to easily spread ideas around amongst themselves.

And guess what? All of these are things that are facilitated simply by just sitting down regularly for meals together.

Every day, in all of our offices, we have lunch brought into the conference rooms.

At my current company we have lunch brought in for our employees every day (and placed in the middle of the conference table to encourage sitting down and eating together, not taking lunch back to your desk). And every Friday we have a video call connecting together our US conference rooms so that the entire US team can eat lunch “together” in a virtual way. We have a monthly global meeting we call our “Bagels and Beer” meeting because it’s 9am in San Francisco and 6pm in Europe. It’s ingrained into our company culture that we take the time to sit down and have meals together.

So if you are running a high-performing team, make sure you carve out meal time. You don’t need to carve-up cave man food — hipster sandwiches will work just fine. But encourage your team to sit down together for food, laughter, and swapping good stories.

Because that’s how great teams have been built, since times primordial.