Three gifts for collaboration

I reckon it’s still okay to ask, ‘How was your break?’ up until the long weekend in January. After our morning swim at Bondi Beach this week, I asked a friend about hers.

“Great – after Christmas Day was over.”

They turned up to a house smelling of burnt meat and it just got worse from there. It was the first time her brother had hosted. He wanted to do everything himself and surprise everyone.

“It got hotter, and later,” she explained. “I think he panicked and got his brother and an auntie to help him in the kitchen. It was a nightmare. They all stopped talking to each other. The rest of us did our best but you could cut the air with a knife”.

Lunch was served about two hours late and the food was over-done and cold. People couldn’t wait to get out of there.

It sounded like the host wanted to impress and tried to keep things tightly controlled. People were kept in the dark. They didn’t know what to expect or how to help on the day.

Imagine how differently it could have turned out with a clear purpose, structure and leadership.

Purpose

Simple enough. A meal for 5, 10, 15 or more. Dig a little deeper and it’s probably more like ‘feed the crew with a feast of dishes served at just the right time and temperature, without getting stressed and keeping your sense of humour’.

On a 35-degree day in Melbourne or with 80 percent humidity in Sydney, a clear purpose sustains your energy and focus until you put your feet up with a final nightcap or cuppa.

People not in the kitchen respond to a clear purpose as well. Keeping cooks watered with cool drinks, controlling the dogs, distracting the toddlers and engaging in the art of conversation to the level rightly expected by the elders. Nail purpose and collaboration flows. Time flies and nobody’s exhausted. Imagine - everyone has a sense of wonder about what a relaxed Christmas that was.

Structure

A little direction goes a long way in the kitchen on Christmas Day. Too many cooks can spoil the broth – especially if everyone has an opinion on when to take the crackling out. But with gentle direction, many hands can really make the work light.

Your sister has got the meat covered. Her partner has timed the vegies to perfection. Auntie hovers providing just the right implement at just the right time. A cousin arranges the prawns and oysters on ice, just so. A niece keeps the dogs under control.

Leadership

This Christmas our leader was a gentle host who usually prefers to stay in the background. Her husband makes a great coffee. But he’d probably be the first to admit that he appreciates good food more than he knows how to cook it.

Our host stepped up with the venue and essentials, asked for help then stepped back, empowering the leaders of meat, vegetable and dessert to take charge at the right time. The leadership changed hands as often as people moved seats at the table. There were also leading waiters, bar staff, entertainers, coaches for kick-to-kick after lunch, and musicians for the post lunch jam.

We’re told at the first Christmas that the three Kings brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Maybe purpose, structure and leadership are better gifts if you want to get stuff done together – on Christmas Day or year-round at work.

I’d love to hear what ingredients you think encourage effective collaboration.