"Can you hear the laughter?" asks Ros Rathouse as Real Business enters the bustling kitchen at 15B Little Portland Street. "They won’t be laughing in ten minutes."
Real Business was invited to observe a training session, held at Cookery School HQ yesterday evening. The company undergoing the "management programme" was a recently-launched social networking firm called Qype.
Qype’s parent company is German but the employees taking part in the exercise were from the London satellite office. "The company always lists its objectives," says Rathouse. "In this case, we wanted to check out the cultural fit between the UK staff and the parent company. So, today, they are cooking an entirely German meal."
Sure enough, the menu consisted of: homemade bratwurst, sauerbraten, spatzle, cherry strudel and liptauer cheese (among others), all made from scratch.
The eight-strong team were about 20 minutes into their task when Real Business arrived. They were still very cheerful. "I will keep reminding them of the time and they will start to feel the pressure," says Rathouse. "Then it will feel more like a work environment and you will see they will get very quiet."
Each member of the team had been handed a recipe card at the start of the task. Some were extremely difficult and others were easy. "They will need to help each other in order to finish the meal," explains Rathouse "At Qype, they are all under huge pressure and are not used to asking each other for help. So we will see how they do."
And here’s the really cool bit: the whole cooking event is filmed. "After they have cooked the meal, they will sit down and eat it together, then watch the film over dessert," says Rathouse. "Often, during the screening, people become horrified by their behaviour."
Indeed, this cooking exercise was extremely revealing. Some members of the team were very helpful to their fellow Qypians, whereas others were loners, either happier on their own or simply ignored. "Does anyone know how to use a meat mincer?" came one unanswered plea.
The recipe cards are also all drawn at random, which leads to some interesting collaborative cooking. For example, the MD was dealing with the sauerkraut, working closely with a new girl. The pair were barely speaking. "Hm. That’s not good," says Rathouse. "He’s very remote. And he’s supposed to be the leader."
There’s no room to hide in these training sessions. Ros Rathouse keeps a keen eye on the proceedings, while her two chefs and two assistants make sure no one makes any irreparable mistakes. "We try not to get involved at all," says Rathouse. "They are supposed to help each other, not ask us."
Indeed, the Qype company logo reads, "Find it. Share it." All the Cookery School hand-outs were emblazoned with this motto to remind the staff to do just that. But was it working?
One woman, struggling with her strudel dough, comes over. "Is this right?" she asks in a panic. "I’m running out of time. Am I supposed to just carry on cooking while everyone else has finished?"
"Do what you have to," comes Rathouse’s enigmatic reply. The woman flings the dough back on the counter, barely holding back tears.
"That happens quite a lot," admits Rathouse. "People have arguments and tantrums and tears but it means that all the issues are worked out. They leave here a stronger team."
First impressions of Qype: Pretty good cooks – one chap was a dab hand with a whisk. MD was a bit hands-off. Plus, his brief to Rathouse contained one glaring omission, "He never asked how to have a happy team," says Rathouse. But the rest were very helpful and collaborative, albeit slightly sloppy (a few people didn’t bother to read their recipe cards – rookie mistake).
Want to know how the session turns out? Will the MD step up. Will the meal turn out fine?
Find out tomorrow on Real Business.
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