How to Feed Your Team and Build a Positive Culture

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As long-time readers know (and by the way, today marks the beginning of year 14 of RFL), from time-to-time readers get enthused and write back to me with better ideas than I have shared in the first place. Today I feature feedback from a friend, Bill Richards, who works, okay, he’s a judge, in the 46th District Court in Southfield, Michigan. Bill had some reflections on my post about how many readers described their workplace cultures as “heavy” or “dark” or even “toxic.” I asked him for permission to print it, because it’s so good. He agreed, and here’s what he wrote:

“On the culture question, one way to “lighten” the office culture is through food. In our court, which consists of about 37 employees, we have what I would call a food culture. I don’t know how it started, and I take no credit for it. It was here when I came here seven years ago. But I love it. People bring in food for no reason at all except to share it. Our former court administrator, a proud Notre Dame grad, brought in bagels every Monday morning in the Fall after a Notre Dame gridiron victory. I saw that, and I thought, OK, on the weekends when ND loses and Michigan wins, I’ll bring in the bagels. Staff wins more often that way.

“Once every summer, we have a court BBQ at lunchtime. We pass a sheet of paper around in the weeks leading up to the BBQ, and everyone signs up to bring a dish. In our conference room, we lay out quite a spread. People come in whenever they can, mingling and eating together. I sense no tension in our office, and I attribute a lot of that to our food culture. We deal with a lot of unhappy citizens, because people are coming to us to pay tickets and face criminal charges. Litigation is our business and that is adversarial by nature. So we are not handing out happiness. Given the nature of our business and a bare-bones staff like most governmental agencies, it is remarkable that we have a content staff.

“In a Free Press article an employee of one of the winning great-place-to-work companies said his bosses brought in pizza for lunch just to improve morale. Shortly after that, pizza and salad appeared one day for staff; now that free lunch appears a few times a year. The anonymity seems to have added an element of intrigue to the idea. Once after the lunch, a staff member put a note on the white board in the conference room, ‘thank you, anonymous donors.’ You should see the smiles for the rest of the day.

“All this has led to a ‘46th District Court Recipe Book’ that we leave out in the kitchen. It contains our favorite recipes contributed by staff over the years. We should probably give each new employee a copy. How much “lighter” would that be for openers than just giving people the sometimes “heavy” employee handbook, necessary yes, but also full of rules and expectations?

I will conclude, as Bill did in his message to me:

“Have a light–hearted day,”

Dan