With inflation soaring and across-the-board price hikes dominating the headlines, many companies are cracking down on perks to save money. Tech giant Google recently told senior managers to limit employee travel and social events in a bid to reduce costs and shore up its position ahead of a potential economic slowdown.
However, in contrast, I believe team socialising should be treated as a business necessity rather than a drain on resources. At Insights we take the time and think hard about the appropriate budget to ensure that social occasions are an inherent part of our culture. That’s because commensality – the act of eating or socialising together – creates connection, strengthens relationships, and builds a unified and cohesive community, all of which are the foundations for innovation and business success.
This was evident more recently during a four-day workshop which we held at the home of Lego in Billund, Denmark. Senior leaders and a team of ‘Brick Keepers’ from across the company gathered together to understand and align around our organisational purpose using Lego Serious Play.
The time spent socialising and having dinner in the evening supercharged our connection and productivity; we did not view this as any less valuable than the organised daytime workshops. The atmosphere during those dinners was electric and the excitement was palpable. We came away with a deeper understanding of each other at a personal and business level, and with actions to help improve the experience for our colleagues and customers.
This time in Billund reinforced for me that we need to create really compelling experiences for our people and that a big part of how we do that is through commensality.
It is important to be intentional with socialising in a post-Covid world after two-years of being apart from each other. As someone with a strong introverted intuition, even I understand the myriad of connections and benefits that come from socialising. Through commensality, people have an opportunity to:
- Build connections, while giving others the opportunity to listen and, empathise. This has enormous and innumerable benefits including engagement, innovation and improved wellbeing.
- Generate unexpected nuggets of pure brilliance. I’ve heard many stories – and experienced myself – the unexpected breakthroughs that surface from an informal conversation during dinner or drinks. The spark of an idea that can change – even elevate – a product or experience.
- Create a deeper understanding of culture and diversity. Many cultures use commensality as a backdrop for storytelling, sharing tales and experiences. This not only builds connection but ensure learned experiences and cautionary tales are passed from person to person, leader to leader, and generation to generation. It shows everyone at the table that they have a voice which is heard and valued. Storytelling is a huge part of our culture at Insights and something we are keen to hold onto.
- Enhance productivity. If I share stories with someone at dinner, it makes it easier to pick up the phone to them the next day rather than pinging across an email that gets lost in an inbox. Commensality eases the network and enhances the connection, which leads to increased productivity.
An example of this came not long after I joined Insights. A group of leaders from across our European business gathered together in a restaurant, converted from a farmer’s shed in the middle of the Scottish countryside. During our meal together, we took turns ‘checking-in’ by standing up and giving a toast, and then passing to someone else. It was like passing a talking stick around the campfire and was so powerful that it has stayed with me ever since.
When Insights merged our European joint venture businesses and centralised operations, I remembered that gathering and understood the importance of holding onto the diversity which makes organisation so special and is one of our key strengths. I truly believe that dinner played a key part in ensuring the transition, with cultural diversity at the heart of our strategy.
During Insights’ 30-year history, our business has intentionally invested in commensality, and I know it has played an important part in our overall success. It has not only an incubated creativity and innovation that can unlock organisational success, but also enabled a unique culture that we know attracts talent and is an integral part of our employee experience. It has also generated immeasurable social capital that has made positive difference for colleagues and, in turn, customers.
Written by Fiona Logan.
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