As Christine wrote about last week, disengagement in the workplace is a real issue, and the results—departmental silos, ineffective teams and checked-out employees—can be costly. I learned this first-hand as part of my final-semester project at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
The core focus of the MBA in Design Strategy is developing solutions and innovations that, “are not only profitable, but also sustainable, ethical, and truly meaningful.” I’ve had the good fortune of continuing to work in Branded Environments while “commuting” to San Francisco once a month for class; this dual world where I am able to merge my experience at Perkins+Will and the hands-on education from school have afforded me an amazing (if sleep-deprived) learning experience over the past two years.
During our final semester, students develop real business solutions and ventures that address “fundamental pains and opportunities” in the market. We developed these ventures from initial concept and strategy, interviews and research, prototype and validation, operation and business plans, to final deliverables, culminating a 10-minute pitch to investors.
Our team’s result was CoLunch Box, a concept that combines two existing business models—team building and catering—to create a workplace team-building experience through the ritual of creating a shared meal together. To reach this solution, we started with a big question: How can we enable cross-sector collaboration with diverse people to solve complex problems?
When we went out and talked to people in organizations about teamwork and collaboration, they all agreed that it was important to spend time getting to know their colleagues, but that team building only happened a few times a year at offsite events, or it was mostly on their personal time; either way, it wasn’t happening very often. When we asked them what building better relationships in the workplace could look like, this is what we heard:
- Don’t make us do it on our own time, we need balance.
- Take us out of the office mentality, but we can’t actually leave the office because we’re busy.
- Building relationships is something that happens over time – so it needs to happen more frequently than once a year at a staff retreat.
- Offsite events take time and effort to plan – it needs to be something that’s easy to set up if we’re going to do it more frequently.
- It needs to be something that is comfortable for everyone to engage with together – regardless of title, skillset, or background.
As my team evaluated these design criteria and the competitive landscape of relationship-building strategies that currently exist, we realized there was an unmet need for collaborative events that happened more frequently at work. This led us to a key insight – leveraging the workday lunch hour as an opportunity to engage with colleagues during the day, but away from the desk.
We believe that when you have deeper relationships with the people around you, you work better as a team. CoLunch Box enables the meaningful experience of creating a meal together in the office by delivering a full table setting, all the fresh, prepped ingredients ready for your team to assemble, and engaging conversation prompts that take your mind off deadlines, and back to the people who we spend so much of our time with each day.
The semester culminated in our team prototyping CoLunch Box in the workplace, creating brand collateral and product lines, and developing a mockup website to further refine our offering. We pitched our solution along with 16 other teams at the DMBA Venture Night earlier this month, and received great feedback, along with a couple of requests for a CoLunch Box event!
Ultimately, this experience and the final solution we developed reinforces what all of us most likely know, but often forget – that team building and deeper relationships aren’t built through trust falls and HR personality tests that come from the top down. Instead it’s those unguarded, unstructured moments when you can sit down with the person next to you and just be human.
I am also very grateful to several generous colleagues here in the Chicago office of Perkins+Will who gave up part of their workday to prototype, test, and give feedback on early iterations of CoLunch Box. In addition to myself, the CoLunch Box project team included Laura Smith, Mark Gabriel, and Sue Pollock. For more information on the team and our project, visit our project website.