The-Motivational Meal

Wouldn’t it be nice to have your boss working for you for a change? Better yet, to have him working for you in your kitchen? How great would that be? Your boss slaving away over a hot stove for you. But why waste all of that culinary talent on just you? You’re not the selfish type. You should invite your coworkers. All of you could kick back with some wine and take your sweet time enjoying, say, savory mushroom crepes with Madeira and cream. Sure, they have to be painstakingly made, one by one, but your boss doesn’t mind.

Just look at him back there, wide-eyed and covered in flour—loving it. Even better still, let’s do all of this dirtying-of-pans, feet-up-on-the-coffee-table business at HIS house. And for kicks, let’s throw his wife into the kitchen with him and let them handle all of the waiting and bussing, too. You wouldn’t want to break that wonderful sitting-and-eating streak, would you? No way. You should enjoy yourself!

The people of Whole Foods Market’s electronic-invoicing team certainly enjoyed every bit of it. And believe or not, so did their boss, Tobin McGill. In fact, it was all his idea. As a skilled team leader, McGill is wise to the traditional paths used to inspire and motivate a group of people. But as a devout foodie, he also knows that a shared meal, and the rituals and community that often accompany great, handmade food, are enormously powerful bonding elements. What if the two were combined?

It all started when McGill challenged his team with the highly optimistic goal of bringing on board 20 new vendors in a year. He gathered the troops and presented this carrot: “For every four new vendors acquired,” he said, “I will cook you one course of a meal.” It sounded so enticing that everyone got to work. When the team picked up vendor number four, they came a-knockin’. Soup was promised. Then a few weeks later, the team dropped vendor number eight in McGill’s in-box. Gnocchi? Check. And before anyone could say “no take-backs!” the team had all 20 vendors wrapped up. McGill was ready to make good on his five-course promise, so he and wife, Eve Chenu, hit the local farms. The cauliflower from Johnson’s Backyard Garden would be perfect for the saffron-infused cauliflower soup, while the second course would showcase Boggy Creek Farm’s tomatoes and potatoes in gnocchi with herb roasted tomatoes, caramelized cipollini onions, goat cheese and thyme-infused balsamic vinegar.

McGill and Chenu opened their door and presented the team with a well-earned reward: a brilliant five-course meal paired with three types of wine and port. A successful motivational concept was set into motion—one that’s repeated with each new work challenge. “Although the meals may be motivational,” McGill notes, “they also allow me to express my appreciation for their hard work in a more sincere and personal way.” During this, and each subsequent dinner, McGill’s dining room is filled with the kind of camaraderie, laughter and connection that only the sharing of a good meal can bring. Afterward, the team leaves, stuffed to the brim with goodness, appreciation and renewed inspiration.