All For The Price Of A Sandwich

September 25th, 2009 · 12:46 pm @   -  No Comments
WalnutShellIN A NUTSHELL: A monthly birthday lunch ritual is an easy, enjoyable, cost effective way to connect on a more personal level with your organization.

sub_sandwichAt AGY and when I led the GE Sealants business, I implemented the practice of holding monthly birthday lunches.  I’ve found this to be a very convenient and fun way to connect and stay connected with people in your business.

As leaders, we have a tendency to be “All Business, All The Time” when we are in the office.  Consequently, it’s sometimes easy for people to think about us as managers and bosses, as opposed to just “normal people”.  Additionally, in a business of any size (ours has over 1300 associates), it is nearly impossible to know everyone or to know much about their lives or their backgrounds.  A monthly birthday lunch rhythm can give you a start at overcoming both of those potential barriers to effective leadership.

Really all you need to do is run an extract sorted by birthday from your payroll system and use it to generate a series of meeting invites:

  • Explain in the invite that the meeting is just to celebrate all the birthdays in the month (no business agenda or homework required)  and that you are picking up lunch.
  • I think the optimum size for these meetings is 10 – 15 people, including yourself.  Anything much more and it’s hard to orchestrate around one big conference table where you can make eye contact.  Anything much less and you may be in for some awkward silence.  You may need to adjust frequency (combining two months or having two sessions in one month) based on the number of people in your company / at each site.
  • Make sure you do this at all your sites if possible, not just at HQ.
  • Congratulate everyone, wish them a Happy Birthday, and shake their hand as they come into the room.
  • Once everyone has arrived, explain that this is just a session to celebrate their birthdays and to get to know everyone better.  Explain that you do not have a business agenda to discuss, but that they are certainly welcome to ask you any questions which they may have.
  • Once every one has grabbed their sandwich / chips etc. and has sat down at the table, it’s usually good to just go around the table with a standard series of ice breaker questions.  I like to use the following:
    • What’s your name?
    • When was/is your birthday (age optional)?
    • What department do you work in and how long have you been with the company?
    • Tell us a quick story about one of the most memorable birthday’s you’ve had.

Usually this morphs a cool room into a warm dialog among team mates and you can spin off into many different directions based on where the conversation takes you.  You’ll find that you learn a lot about the people in your company and that the folks will increasingly see you as a human being and not just as a boss.  Be prepared to address any off the cuff business related questions candidly and casually.  If you are as bad with names as I am, you may find it helpful to jot notes on the printed calendar entry invitation to help jog your memory about specific people.

I’ve found this to be a great way to connect on another level with your people, and the birthday boys and girls seem to enjoy it as well.  Please feedback in the comments  if you have similar experiences or suggestions.

(photo courtesy mhaithaca under creative commons)

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