How We Use Cooking to See Strengths

Cooking is something universally shared by everyone. While the level of expertise varies, it’s something all of us can relate to. Whether it’s heating up a meal in the microwave, or preparing a 5 course Gordon Ramsay masterpiece, the act of cooking, and eating, typically draws people together.

One simple activity we have found particularly effective at drawing out Strengths behaviors is a cooking class. We have done this with several clients and while the location and menu is always different, the concept is the same. Here’s what we have done and why we think it has been especially helpful for talking about Strengths.

Strengths Teaching

Before we get to the actual cooking, we lead our client through a basic 1 – 2 hour overview of the philosophy of StrengthsFinder. Ideally, everyone in the room has taken the test, and have their results in front of them. We talk about;

  • The big picture of strengths
  • What the tool is
  • Definition of terms (talent, theme, strength, fit)
  • 30 second conversations

Depending on how much time we have, we’ll then briefly run through the 34 theme definitions. The purpose of this teaching isn’t to do a deep dive into strengths, but to begin creating a shared language and vocabulary that can be used later.

Cooking Class

The next step is a professional cooking class lead by a real chef in a real, commercial kitchen. We’ve worked with a number of companies here in the Twin Cities. Wherever we’ve done this, the class follows a similar pattern.

  • Introduction of the menu
  • Divide up into “course teams
  • Teaching (by chef) how to prepare individual courses
  • Giving instructions

Once the basic instructions are given, the chef releases the team members to begin preparing their portion of the meal. It’s fascinating to watch 10 – 20 people try to operate in a kitchen together. Not only do they need to communicate within their own sub team, but as a large group as there is inevitably competition for use of various kitchen items.

What We’re Doing

While our clients are having fun preparing the food, we’re participating right along with them. The difference is that we’re making strengths based behavioral observations. Each team member has a name tag with their strengths listed (and we have a cheat sheet as well). There’s not much magic to it (ok, maybe a little), we simply watch what’s happening and ask lots of natural questions of what we’re seeing. Questions like;

  • “I noticed that it’s been 20 minutes and you haven’t started anything yet because you’re walking around talking to everyone in the room. Is typical? Maybe that’s an example of your Woo and Relator working together?”
  • “I noticed you started before the chef was done giving instructions. I also noticed you have Activator. Do you normally jump in like that with other projects?”
  • “When the potatoes didn’t turn out right, you seemed to be able to go with the flow and improvise pretty easily. Do you think your Adaptability and Positivity helped with that?”

We also spend time just getting to know them. It’s not all strengths based – sometimes just getting to know a person’s story will reveal much of who they are.

Outcomes

Once all the food is finished, we enjoy a nice meal together. Without fail, something hilarious happened in the kitchen during dinner prep and we use that as fodder to spur other conversations. We try not to direct the conversation too much, as this is also a great, “out of the office” way for team members to get to know each other.

Our desired outcome with this whole activity is to provide real examples of how we see people’s strengths working. It’s one thing to sit across from someone and hear them describe their strengths to you. It’s an entirely different (and more powerful) experience to get to actually see, at least in one context, how those strengths are actually applied to a given situation.

Next Steps

Typically we don’t just do the cooking class alone. It’s part of a larger, comprehensive set of services we offer our clients to build relational connection to better understand and help their team. The cooking class is excellent for providing us a huge running start.

Your Experience

What activities have you done to help you better understand strengths behaviors? Leave your ideas in the comments below.