Serving Meals is a Team Effort

   Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi

Legendary coach Vince Lombardi understood the value of selfless contribution to the team effort as well as anyone. His ability to motivate and inspire athletes to sacrifice ego, become masters of basic fundamentals, and work in harmony made him an American icon. Forty years later, the lessons have not changed. Successful teams, whether athletes or co-workers, all have something in common. They have created meaningful relationships built upon trust and unity of purpose.

But perhaps you’re saying, “Cindy, I’m not working with world-class athletes like Vince Lombardi did. Many of our servers come from immigrant families, a lot of them are very young, or come from less affluent backgrounds. It’s not the same thing!”

I assure you, it is. Cultural differences are not your biggest issue. Likely most of your servers come from cultural backgrounds that revere both hospitality and the elderly. They probably know exactly how to express hospitality in their own homes. They have usually been trained since childhood how to show regard for their own grandparents. In those situations, where they understand the standards and skills expected and have social support from family, they probably perform very well. If you teach the standards and skills expected in your organization, they will also perform well.

Let’s look at an example of a team that’s more like yours.

Photo credit: John Nepolitan/ESPNHS

Let me introduce you to the high school girls cross-country team from Fayetteville-Manilus (F-M) in upstate New York. These are high school girls, which means they are in the same age range as a lot of your servers. None of them were born knowing how to be champion runners. Yet this team won its 6th consecutive national championship in 2011 and there appears to be no end in sight.

The girls from F-M are no more or less talented than those from dozens of other schools across the US who take running seriously. There is no magic formula for the team’s workouts. But the school’s coach, Bill Aris, has developed a culture—a day-by-day process—that every member follows. On top of that, the coach develops his runners emotionally. He finds ways for his athletes to buy in to the greater effort. They work hard because they see their teammates working hard. During races they dig deep for that something extra, discovering what it means to be brave along the way. They don’t run as individuals with singular agendas and goals. They run as seven, committed to a common purpose. Unified. Loving each other. That’s Fayetteville-Manlius’ secret.

We can embrace the secret from F-M’s example.

For too long, senior living communities have been compartmentalized—with each department fighting for its own turf. Kitchen staff may argue with nursing staff over something as simple as who should deliver a sandwich to a resident. Each group is often pressed for time. Is it the kitchen staff’s responsibility to bring the meal to the floor or the resident’s room? Should a CNA go to the kitchen to retrieve it? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who delivers the sandwich. What matters is the residents’ needs and expectations—and the company’s standards—are met. That gets accomplished when your staff sees themselves as a team. Like the F-M girls, they need to set aside their singular agendas and goals and commit themselves to a common purpose. When all departments are unified behind placing residents’ needs first, everyone wins.

It’s time every department in the organization learns the importance of the dining experience to the entire organization’s success and starts supporting servers.

Learn more about how to help your staff work as a team in Hospitality for Boomers: How to attract residents, retain staff, and maximize profitability.


About Cindy Heilman

Cindy is the founder and owner of Kind Dining®, which she began in 2006. She’s traveled across the country and Canada working with and training senior living communities that want to create an exceptional dining experience for their residents and staff. In addition, she certifies select professionals in her Kind Dining® philosophy and provides tools, now in an eLearning format, that make learning stick and help people put insights into action. As a result of her work, clients often share their staff has a new sense of purpose, get along better and keep their focus and energy on what matters most. In fact, she wrote a book, Hospitality for Boomers on how to attract residents and keep good team members. In her free time, she enjoys walking Oregon trails and cheering on her favorite soccer teams, the Portland Thorns and Timbers.

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