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Food and Drink as Bonding Agent

For the past two work days, I have been a key member in a workshop comprised of Italian, Swiss, and Americans where we discussed the finer points of a software development process with an eye towards increased efficiency, reduced process waste, and an alignment of terminology which will be relevant across the cultural contexts of India, Italy, Switzerland, and the USA. So far, we have spent a good 18 hours together in a conference room exchanging ideas and coming to reluctant agreement in some areas and making plans which we will execute over the next months. Making plans are great but, in my opinion, we have not reached a level of team work where we will strive to make each other successful. We needed something to glue ourselves together. I would say the most progress we made toward becoming a cohesive group was over a shared meal.

In many cultures, eating/drinking brings people together. Tonight, our team spent an extended period sharing an Italian meal in a little restaurant in the Swiss town of Zug. There were 7 of us….3 Americans, 2 Swiss, 1 Italian, and 1 American expat who has been living and working in Switzerland for about 5 years.  It was amazing to watch walls begin to crumble as we clinked glasses of wine in a toast to each other before partaking of the excellent faire. Over the course of our time together we talked of work and family and hobbies and dreams.We conversed in English, German, Italian, and Spanish. English was by far the dominant language but we native English speakers made attempts to use what little of the other languages we knew and to learn phrases of the other tongues.

I learned that Peter and Bea love to cook and enjoy the cycle of cook, eat, drink, repeat. Dan spoke to me of the particulars of a Siemens delegation as I consider moving to India for a year. Mike and Markus discussed the finer points of sailing and the lack of good sailing weather on the Zugersee. Maruizio talked to me about Inter Milan, his favorite football team. All in all we learned about each other at a level that was much deeper than could be gleaned during our workshop and brief lunch interludes

The meal lasted nearly for hours and, by American standards, cost an ungodly amount of money. But this was so much more than a meal. It was an investment in the companies future and our futures.  During the meal, we made the transition from colleagues toward friendship.The food and wine transcended sustenance for our bodies. The elements combined and acted as a bonding agent which knitted us together as a team. Because we now know about each other on a more personal basis, our bond will be stronger and help carry us through the challenges we will face.

Tomorrow we meet for a 1/2 day to outline actions items and to finalize our recommendations for the immediate future, the 2-3 year horizon, and the 5+ year vision. For the first time in the past two days, I am confident that we will succeed. And I credit the belief because the 7 of us took four hours out of our lives to share a meal.


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