Workplace Communication and Teamwork

17 Working as a Part of a Team

The goal of restaurant and food service establishments is to provide high-quality meals and excellent service to customers while staying within food and labour costs so that the operation can make a profit. This goal can only be achieved with the cooperation and support of all of the staff. Just as a football franchise only succeeds when the players and staff form a cohesive team, so too does a restaurant succeed only when the staff forms a working team.

Teams invariably outperform individuals if they are working effectively. When groups come together to solve a problem, they come up with more creative and flexible solutions than could individuals. In a restaurant, excellent food and service is always a team effort. If the meal is not well prepared or if the service is poor, the customer may not enjoy the dining experience. All members of the team have a role in making the customers experience memorable.

Cooks often think only of the team in the kitchen. The kitchen staff members may think of themselves as a team (“us”) allied against the front of house staff (“them”). The kitchen staff on other shifts, management, and other components of the operation may also be considered “them.” This is not productive in a well-functioning restaurant. The staff may believe that if only “they” were more understanding, worked harder, or knew what it was really like, “we” could do the best job. Of course, this same thinking is prevalent in the other groups except in reverse.

The flaw with this thinking is that it pits one group against the other. It contributes to poor customer service. Petty jealousies and conflicts can lead to various schemes to get the better of the other group. This is an immature way of looking at your workplace and unfortunately the customer will suffer. Being part of a team means being respectful to all other members for their particular role and duties. When the entire group sees itself as having a common set of goals to achieve, and each member of the team understands his or her contribution to the overall team effort, the best results are achieved.

Characteristics of effective working groups

Groups that work effectively have the following characteristics:

  • Group members share a sense of purpose or common goals that each member is willing to work toward. Members feel that they played a role in determining these goals and the methods used to achieve them. When a task is accomplished or the demands of the situation change, the group can change its focus or direction to meet the new goals.
  • The group is concerned not only with the task, but also with its own processes and operating procedures. The group periodically evaluates its performance.
  • The group members use one another as a resource. The group willingly accepts the influence and leadership of members whose resources are relevant to the immediate task. Roles are balanced and shared to ensure that the tasks are accomplished and that group cohesion and morale are enhanced.
  • Communication is clear and direct. Group members continually try to listen to and clarify what is being said and show interest in what others say and feel. Differences of opinion are encouraged and freely expressed.
  • The group focuses on problem solving rather than expending energy on competitive struggles or interpersonal issues. The group is willing to deal with conflict and focus on it until it is resolved or managed in a way that does not reduce the effectiveness of the group and its members. Confrontation is accepted as a challenge to examine one’s behaviour or ideas. It is not viewed as an uncaring personal attack.
  • Mistakes are seen as sources of learning rather than reasons for punishment. This encourages creativity and risk taking.
  • The group has a clear set of expectations and standards for the behaviour of group members.
  • Developing a climate of trust underlies all of these elements. In order to trust one another, individuals in a group must understand and get to know one another.

Stages of group development

Groups go through a set of predictable stages of development. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, who carried out research on group dynamics, identified the four stages as forming (getting to know each other); storming (initial confrontation as group members identify their differences); norming (coming together to work for the benefit of the team); and performing (working well together with a process to deal with any differences of opinion and reassessing to look for opportunities for improvement). (Tuckman, 1965)

  • Forming: When a group is first formed, individuals wait and see what is going on. They are unsure of their role and concerned about how they will fit in. They want to belong to the group, feel accepted, and find out what the task is. If you think for a moment, you will probably remember feeling like this on your first day of work. The supervisor or leader can help at this stage by providing a comfortable and structured environment. Ensure that each person is introduced and there is an opportunity to get to know one another. Be clear about goals and expectations.
  • Storming: During the confrontation stage, individuals in a group begin to struggle to establish their place in the group. They may challenge the leadership of the group or the group boundaries. They may also, for the first time, express disagreement or impatience with the task or group process. At first, the leader may wonder why the group, which seemed to be working well, now seems to be in trouble. This stage is healthy because group members feel comfortable and trusting enough to air conflicts which previously had been kept hidden. The supervisor needs to provide time to deal with issues as they arise and avoid the temptation to “put the lid on” the conflict. Healthy dissent leads to better problem solving and better cooperation. If you prevent conflict from being expressed, it may continue to fester under the surface, causing greater problems later on.
  • Norming: At the working stage, groups have developed methods of dealing with task and process and can work effectively together. People become more tolerant of differences in the group and encourage self-expression. The group can accept and build on one another’s strengths, sharing tasks in the most productive way.
  • Performing: During maturity, the group continues to cooperate to resolve issues and accomplish objectives. The group can stagnate and become less effective if new challenges and opportunities do not arise. Perhaps you have worked in a restaurant where the entire working group has been together for a couple of years. The group works together well, but unless there are new challenges, such as a new menu or an expansion, the situation can become boring. When group members are bored and unchallenged, their performance may decline and conflicts between members may start to dominate the working of the group.

During reassessment, members examine their performance and working processes. They begin to provide honest feedback which is not always positive and begin to share ideas that might create conflict. As a result of this examination, the group can continue to develop its effectiveness.

Work groups are constantly being formed and reformed as new staff members join and others leave. New members of the team have the same needs as new groups. Because the team has a different membership, the whole group may revert to an earlier stage of development. This is especially true if the new team member has a position of authority over other members. A good leader always watches for signs that the group needs more structure or a new challenge.

This sense of teamwork is not something that just happens; it is created through good communication, leadership, caring for individuals as people, and an understanding of group process.

Roles of group members

Members of a work group fall into two categories. Initiators are the people who speak up first and generate ideas. They contribute their knowledge of relevant information and experience and give opinions. Responders listen and respond to suggestions they have heard. They evaluate information, criticize proposals, and ask questions. They play an important role in developing the ideas put forward by initiators.

As the group process continues, members switch back and forth between the roles. Both roles are important for group function. Groups need a balance between these roles. If there is only idea generation, the result will be a contentious, unruly group that is too divided to make up its mind. If there is too much emphasis on criticism of contributions and evaluation of ideas, the group may not come up with any new and innovative ideas to try. Maintaining a balance is the role of the group leader.

Barriers to group performance

In an effective group, the purpose of the group takes precedence over the needs of individuals. When individuals place their needs ahead of those of the group, they act as a barrier to performance. These people can be classified as:

  • Aggressors who want to win or exert power
  • Defeatists who feel that the problem is insurmountable, and sometimes, demoralize the group and sabotage the group process
  • Stars who have to be in the limelight all the time, even when not making a contribution
  • Storytellers who keep lapsing into asides and irrelevant conversations
  • Clowns who just want to get attention and laughs
  • Dominators who want to run things more than they want to solve the problem
  • Axe-grinders who relate everything to their pet peeve

Perhaps you can think of one or two people with whom you’ve worked who fit into these categories.

Good communication

Good communication always leads to better cooperation. Communication that is honest and assertive tells the listener what you need. It does not expect the listener to read between the lines. When appropriate, it also expresses feelings about the situation. When problems arise, honest communication allows them to be resolved in a mature way.

When you deal with problems in an aggressive manner, the situation may appear to be resolved in your favour initially, but the other person will likely have hard feelings and resentments. If you deal with problems by giving in to others even though you feel your position has some validity, or when you complain to others but not to the persons involved, you may also begin to feel resentments. Over time, hard feelings and resentments may continue to build over a series of small incidents.


Leadership is important in a team. A good supervisor is a leader who can bring the group together and build an environment in which the team can work together effectively. A leader acts as a:

  • Representative of management
  • Role model
  • Problem solver
  • Motivator
  • Manager of daily operations

A group leader does not have to perform all of these functions all of the time. Some of the most effective leaders lead from behind. They lead the group unobtrusively, sharing the responsibilities and rewards of leadership.

That does not mean that they do nothing. They work hard at “catching people doing it right” and acknowledging their efforts. They value the contributions of others and share decision making. They also recognize when it is important to step in and take charge.

A successful leader has the ability to influence employees by making suggestions and guiding discussion. Every supervisor has legitimate power, which is the authority associated with being a boss. In addition to this authority, effective leaders have a second type of power: the power to influence or persuade people. This power depends on the employee’s acceptance of the supervisor as a person who makes sound judgments and merits respect.

Influence is a very potent form of power (Figure 12). Employees may obey the requests of an authority, but they will go above and beyond the call of duty for someone with influence. Of course, a supervisor needs both authority and influence. If the supervisor has no authority to make decisions, he or she will be unable to create a climate in which work can be performed. In turn, he or she will not enjoy the respect and acceptance that creates influence.

Four chefs in tall white hats prepare a meal together in a room with brick walls and a large window.
Figure 12. Influence builds active participation and cooperation.

Successful leaders combine a focus on task (getting the job done) with a commitment to helping employees achieve their personal goals. If a supervisor concentrates only on accomplishing tasks, he or she will be perceived to be uncaring and unsupportive. Employees may feel that they are not appreciated for their unique skills and interests.

If, on the other hand, the supervisor concentrates only on making employees feel comfortable and fostering a pleasant work environment, the tasks for which the group is responsible may not be accomplished. The owner of the company will not get the necessary job performance. Profits and customer service will suffer. Although you might expect employees to be satisfied, they will not have a sense of accomplishment in their work. Morale will suffer.

Leadership styles

The style of leadership that supervisors use can be categorized into four types:

  • Authoritarian
  • Passive
  • Bureaucratic
  • Participative

Authoritarian leaders plan, organize, coordinate, control, and direct in a very commanding manner. They make the decisions and expect their subordinates to obey. Most military units function under this type of leadership. This does not mean that the leader is not concerned about the welfare of the staff. This type of leader may be a caring individual, but may feel that he or she is in the best position to judge what is best for the staff being supervised. He or she may be like the wise and caring father in a traditional family.

Passive leaders do not want to face conflict. They avoid situations where decisions have to be made or they have to interact with others. They have little concern for either people or production. This style of leadership is seldom appropriate in the type of situations encountered in the food service industry.

A bureaucratic leader expects employees to put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. He or she expects everyone to play by the rules. The results may be predictable, but this type of leadership does not foster creativity or initiative.

Participative leaders believe that participation in decision making is the key to achieving the company’s goals. In today’s world, where most people have a strong streak of individualism, this style may complement the personality and needs of employees well.

However, this does not mean it is appropriate in all situations. For example, an authoritarian style will likely be most effective in an emergency. If there is a fire in the restaurant and the customers and guests must be evacuated, someone needs to take charge quickly. There is no time to consult with staff and arrive at a consensus about what approach should be taken.

The style you choose should reflect the needs of a situation, taking into consideration your personality and the needs of your employees. When you have chosen a style (or one is imposed from above), do not attempt to disguise it. For example, authoritarian leaders sometimes wish to appear more participative. They make a pretense of consulting with others, when in fact a decision has already been made. This only angers and confuses their subordinates.

Here are some tips on being an effective leader:

  • Be clear about your expectations of employees. Expect excellent performance and customer service. Let employees know that you have confidence in them.
  • Share the responsibilities of the job and the credit for a job well done. Praise employees on work well done (Figure 13).
  • Give honest feedback to help employees improve performance. See mistakes as an opportunity to grow and develop.
  • Earn respect by modelling appropriate behaviour and exercising self-discipline.
  • Be positive and encouraging about challenges the group faces. Introduce incentives to help your group achieve the desired level of productivity. Respond to your employees’ motivation and efforts by showing enthusiasm.
  • Enhance your knowledge and skills so that you can answer employee questions and provide detailed information about specific processes and techniques employed by your business.
  • When challenges arise, pitch in and help where help is needed. Encourage others to do so as well.
  • Stand up for your staff when they need support. Listen to your employee’s side of the story before you make a decision.
  • Do not be a gossip or a back stabber. Never say or repeat anything you are not prepared to acknowledge saying.
  • Be consistent, firm, and fair.
Three office workers raise their hands in a three-way high five.
Figure 13. Share the credit for achievements with your staff. Imaged used with permission of go2HR.


Some supervisors believe that if you want a job done, do it yourself. These individuals often work themselves so hard that they burn out. They may work long, hard hours and be admired by others, but inevitably something slips. Perhaps the supervisor becomes ill due to overwork. Because the junior staff have never been given the opportunity to learn the work performed by that individual, the performance of the whole team suffers. Junior staff may feel unappreciated and unchallenged because they have not been given the opportunity to learn new skills.

Delegation of tasks provides you with time to meet your responsibilities. It recognizes the abilities of others and provides them with opportunities to develop their skills and talents. It divides the work to be done among the team members, increasing effectiveness and efficiency (Figure 14).

A chef drizzles sauce over a plate. In the background, more chefs work.
Figure 14. Delegation increases the efficiency of the staff.

When you delegate a task to a junior staff member, it is not enough to simply ask the person to do the job. You must ensure that you:

  • Explain why the task is necessary and how it relates to the goals of the company
  • Explain what is to be done
  • Set performance standards
  • Give a timeline for completion of the task
  • Give the person the necessary resources, authority, and responsibility to carry out the task
  • Provide adequate training
  • Give support and guidance during the initial period
  • Provide feedback on completion of the task

For example, you are planning changes to the menu. You need to test and cost the recipes for the new items. You decide that one of the apprentices you supervise could handle some of the breakfast items you are considering adding to the menu. You might proceed as follows:

“Kuldip, I would like your help in testing and costing the recipe for a new fruit waffle (what) that we are considering adding to our breakfast menu (why).

“You will need to prepare the recipe exactly as shown here. You will calculate the food cost and estimate a menu price based on a 35% food cost. You will prepare four portions that we will serve to some of the dining room staff to get their reactions. I want you to listen to their comments carefully and make notes regarding the flavour, presentation, and cost. I would also appreciate your suggestions on dealing with these comments (what, performance standards).

“Do you have any questions about what you will do?

“In order to test this item, I would like you to stay an extra half hour tomorrow. I will arrange the schedule with the restaurant manager. All the necessary supplies are available. The dining room staff knows that they will be working with you, but you will have to explain exactly what information you need (necessary resources, authority and responsibility).

“I would like your report by 2:30 tomorrow (timeline).

“Do you understand how to fill out the standard recipe costing form we use? This process was covered in your third-year apprentice technical training class. If you have any problems, review this material (handing apprentice an appropriate reading) or come to see me for help (provide training and offer support).”

On the following day, you would go over the report and provide feedback to Kuldip on what she did well and what she could improve.

Media Attributions

  • Chefs Collaborating © go2HR. Used with permission
  • 3-Person High-Five © go2HR. Used with permission
  • A Chef Plating Food © go2HR. Used with permission


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Working in the Food Service Industry Copyright © 2015 by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book