A good cook has a system, and in order for the system to work, everything needs to be in the same place every time.
As I made the transition from company founder to CEO for the first time, I needed to learn many things. Sometimes I learned things from formal training, sometimes from the school of hard knocks. But the most interesting lessons I learned were when I carry sometime over from a seemingly unrelated part of my life.
One such time was when I decided to take a cooking class. It was a knife skills class and we spent several weekday evenings learning how to chop, cut, and fillet everything from shallots to salmon. It was hard work, but it was fun and I learned a lot about how to be proficient in the kitchen.
Cooking was purely a personal passion of mine and I had no intention of apply my culinary lessons to the business world. Yet, I ended up taking several things I learned in class back to the office.
Have a code of conduct and dress
For class, everyone was required to buy a chef jacket, hat, scarf, and apron. If I wanted to learn real culinary skills, dressing the part was step number one. We needed to dress like chefs before we learned how to perform like chefs.
At the office, I realized that while we wanted to create a casual culture and laidback work environment, we had no guidelines or expectations for that desired outcome. People were wearing flip flops and, in one case, T-shirts with outright profanity.
Therefore, we created a new set of norms through a set of team discussions and mutual agreements on what would create a respectful, healthy, and professional office environment. We codified it into a one-page overview which became part of our handbook and onboarding processes.
Start with a team huddle
At the start of each class, our chef would have us gather around the front station. He would hand us the menu for the evening and explain what we were learning. People would ask questions and get clarification so everyone had a crystal clear understanding of the goal and process.
Back at the office, I could now see many situations where people were working frantically on projects for which we hadn’t sat down as a team to discuss the project goals. Once we discussed the goals, several projects changed significantly, and a few were even shelved when we realized the outcomes weren't clear or important.
Set your mise-en-place
After our huddle in cooking class, everyone would go to their station and set up everything they needed for that menu. This included knives, bowls, utensils, measuring cups, raw ingredients, seasonings, etc. Our chef would give us a map of where everything went and how the station should be organized to make the work flow easily, to keep your station clean, and to make sure you and the food were safe. In the kitchen, this is called your mise-en-place.
Thinking about our work space at the office, I realized several areas were not set up for this kind of mise-en-place success. This included my personal desk. I took an hour and cleaned up and created a system for where everything should go. I zip tied and tucked away cables, and I moved anything I didn't need regularly to drawers and cabinets.
Working with our office manager, we created “meeting boxes” for of our conference rooms that had all of the materials we needed for meetings: stickies, sharpies, masking tape, index cards, paper clips, rubber bands, computer chargers, video adaptors...everything.
Once a day, our office manager would check the boxes in each room and make sure everything was in each box. Because of this new system, team members could walk into any room and be confident they would have what they needed for a successful meeting.
Learn from your peers and improve as a team
Some cooking techniques I learned quickly. Others took more time. When our chef came by and I demonstrated that I was able to do the step well, he would ask me to go over to someone else who was having trouble and show him or her how I did it. On the flip side, and if I was struggling, he would send someone over to help me.
At first, I was a little frustrated because I wanted to move on more quickly, but I soon realized that by teaching I was reinforcing my learning and we were keeping everyone in the class at the same learning pace. If he didn't do this, some people would finish quickly and others would fall behind. He kept us learning together as a team.
It quickly occurred to me that back at work, we had several people who were true experts in parts of our business that others were just beginning to learn. We were not learning and growing together.
We set up internal training sessions where the best of our people could present what they knew and help teach others. We had everyone create learning goals and meet monthly in coaching groups. Simply by sharing knowledge we already had internally, we raised the bar on everyone’s performance.
As a company grows, systems and processes become more important. And it’s possible that what worked well at 25 people may not work well at 250. Successful executives are constantly looking for new and better ways of doing things to improve performance and productivity. By exposing yourself to new learning challenges and opportunities, you can often find ideas and solutions to bring back to the office that you probably would not have considered otherwise.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/entrepreneursorganization/2018/08/02/want-to-improve-your-productivity-at-work-take-a-cooking-class/#6594a30f3d17