The Secret Ingredient that Makes One Restaurant a High Performing Team 

My husband and I like to eat. (ok…there, I said it). We have several local restaurants that are our favorite. One of those is a local diner, Loyola’s. If you recognize this restaurant, it’s because they are famous for being one of the diners featured on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. That’s not why we eat there, although it is a bonus. It’s a nice little friendly diner, where many of the same people go each week. You can usually find us there on a Friday or Saturday. I guess that makes us predictable people. (I chuckle as I say that). 

We were there last Saturday for our usual breakfast outing. The restaurant is typically busy so it is not unusual for us to wait 10-15 minutes for a table. I like to people watch and I found myself watching the waitstaff this morning. They were shorthanded. The restaurant was busy, yet it wasn’t chaos and there was sort of an “ebb and flow” happening. I thought to myself, this is an interesting example of Teaming. 

Teaming is a term coined by Amy Edmondson. She authored the book, “Teaming. How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.” The premise of the book is that organizations work well or fail well based on how well (or not) groups within organizations work together. 

Granted, their team is small, it’s only 15 people or so. Regardless, I watched the team bustle about the place. I noticed the help they all provided to each other. Despite being short-staffed that day, they were still able to give every table the attention they needed, the restaurant, the tables were clean (If you know me, this is a restaurant “pet peeve” of mine). The owner was even waiting tables. There was no power struggle, no arguing. Just a group of people who had a goal and a job to do. 

A simple example, but a powerful one that I think many teams can learn from. What made this team successful? 

At the start of her book, Amy discusses the pillars of team success. 

Speaking Up

Collaboration

Experimentation

Reflection

Speaking Up

“Honest and direct conversation between individuals” (pp. 52). Amy also calls this psychological safety. A term that generally means that a team feels “safe” enough to speak up. Granted, this team has worked together for a while. At least as long as I have been going to the restaurant. They are not afraid to speak up and speak out to each other. You can often see that around the restaurant as one will call on another and point, “Hey, can you get them, I’m running to the back for more supplies.” 

Teams thrive when they can speak up, express their needs and receive feedback. Speaking up can be respectful and can come from a place of caring. If teams cannot communicate, errors can occur. While the inability to speak up might not have life-threatening consequences in the case of Loyala’s, think about the Challenger explosion. If engineers felt they could have pushed back and spoken louder about the potential failure of the O-rings, would there have been a different outcome? Now, in no way am I placing blame anywhere. It is however food for thought in how it can apply to our organizations. 

Collaboration 

This team was collaborative. Like a rubber band, they bounced around the restaurant, filling in gaps and needs where their teammates could not. The team communicated with the kitchen (who was fast by the way) and communicated to the front with no issue. The result… a good customer experience. The ultimate goal. Collaboration cannot happen if a team cannot share ideas, and receive feedback. Lack of collaboration is like hoarding information. Hoarding information breaks down the team. If this restaurant team hoarded information, how efficient would they be? Would it ultimately impact their bottom line? Food for thought. No pun intended. 

Experimentation 

I’m pretty sure that Loyala’s does not experiment with their customers’ meals. However, I can bet that they have tried different systems, modified systems, and found routines that work well for their team. A team won’t experiment if they cannot speak up and feel comfortable with making mistakes. Experimenting is how you learn what systems work well for your business. Systems at the end of the day, run your business like a well-oiled machine. 

Reflection 

Reflection allows you to look at the big picture, provide feedback and make changes to your systems. After many events, organizations and teams will meet to discuss what went well, and not so well. I expect that this team did not become high-performing without reflection, feedback, and adjustment to their systems. As we learn, as our environments, circumstances change, teams have to adjust. 

This restaurant may not know it, but they are a great example of how a high-performing team. You can learn a lot about an organization; or even your team by simply watching others. As you enjoy your next meal out, think about what you see. It might surprise you and who knows, you might learn something. I know I did. 

Can I help you find the secret ingredient to building high-performing teams? Let’s connect!

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Ref: Edmondson, A. “Teaming. How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.”

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