Fog Creek

Improve Your Culture with these Team Lunch Tips from 20 Startups

The importance of eating together has long been recognized in positive child development and strengthening family bonds. Eating together is a great equalizer and it can be a good way to help form better and more valuable relationships amongst teams of co-workers too.

Daily Team Lunches

We swear by daily team lunches here at Fog Creek. Having stumbled across their positive impact at Microsoft, Joel Spolsky, one of our co-founders, has said that whilst “there’s a lot of stuff that’s accidental about Fog Creek… lunch is not one of them… The importance of eating together with your co-workers is not negotiable, to me.”

I’m similarly enthusiastic having seen the benefits myself whilst working in Support at a previous company. In my role, I was the bearer of bad news to the Development team – sending and escalating the bugs raised by customers. I had little interaction with the team beyond raising bugs, so forming positive working relationships with its members could be tough. But this was no longer an issue once we started having team lunches. They were a great way for people from different functional areas of the company to come together. We’d chat about both work and non-work stuff, and it meant that we could get to know each other as people and not just colleagues.

Long lunch tables
At Fog Creek, we deliberately have rows of long tables in our cafeteria. Having round tables means that when looking for a place to sit, you have to pick a group of people. But with long ones you just go and sit at the end of the row. You end up speaking to different people every day, helping to avoid cliques. It’s good for new hires too – they don’t have to sit alone or force themselves upon an unfamiliar group.

Like StumbleUpon, AirBnB, Eventbrite and others, we have lunch catered. It’s served up at the same time every day so everyone knows when there will be people around to go eat with. For the foodies amongst you, we share photos of some of the tasty dishes on our Facebook page.

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Others, like MemSQL and Softwire have hired in their own chefs. And of course there’s the likes of Facebook, with their own on-site Pizza place, Burger bar and Patisserie, and Fab, who have their Meatball Shop and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

It Doesn’t Need to be Expensive

It doesn’t need to be expensive though – you don’t have to provide the food, people can bring their own lunch. The important part is the set time and place to eat together. Make them optional, so that people don’t feel obligated and can get on with critical work if need be.

If space is a problem, then eat out. A group at Chartio for example, eat together at a different place in San Francisco every day.

Can’t do it every day? No problem. Take Huddle, they have a team lunch once a week. FreeAgent do too and they keep things interesting by picking a different cuisine from around the world each time.

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Stay Productive

TaskRabbit, Softwire and Bit.ly have their ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions. One team member presents on a particular topic of interest, whilst the rest munch away. Twilio use their team lunches for onboarding new hires, who demo a creation using their API to colleagues in their first week.

Small Groups or the Whole Team

It doesn’t have to be the whole team either. Warby Parker for example has a weekly “lunch roulette,” where two groups of team members go out and share a meal. HubSpot allow any employee “to take someone out for a meal that they feel they can learn from”.

Get Creative!

There are many creative ideas, too. Shoptiques provides lunch with its Book Club, LinkedIn gets in food trucks every Friday, and GoodbyeCrutches have themed lunches – “Jimmy
Buffet Day, Smurf Day, and Pirate Day” being amongst their favorites.

No Excuses

You don’t even need to be in the same country! oDesk hold virtual team lunches where its employees from the US, Russia, Brazil and India gather together and eat whilst on a Hangout.

So there you go, there’s no excuse to have another sad lunch, sat alone at your desk reading some random blog post…

How have you improved team culture at your work place? Tweet your tips to @fogcreek and we’ll re-tweet the best ones.