A new Cornell University study has found that could have implications for organizations looking to enhance team performance, Cornell professors found that firefighter platoons who eat meals together have better group job performance compared with firefighter teams who dine solo.
“Eating together is a more intimate act than looking over an Excel spreadsheet together. That rapprochement spills back over into work,” said study’s author Kevin Kniffin. “From an evolutionary anthropology perspective, eating together has a long, primal tradition as a kind of social glue. That seems to continue in today’s workplaces,” Kniffin explained.
Over the course of 15 months, Kniffin and his colleagues conducted interviews and surveys in a large city’s fire department, which included more than 50 firehouses.
The researchers asked the department’s 395 supervisors to rate on a scale of zero to 10 the performance of their platoon compared to other fire companies in which they’ve served.
The supervisors were also asked how often the shaft eats together in a typical four-day work week.
The platoons which ate together most often also got higher marks for their team performance. Contrariwise, the platoons that did not eat together got lower performance ratings.
In interviews, firefighters said daily group meals were a central activity during their shifts.
In fact, the researchers noted, firefighters expressed a certain embarrassment when asked about firehouses where they didn’t eat together. “It was basically a signal that something deeper was wrong with the way the group worked,” Kniffin said.
Given the findings, organisations would do better to consider their expenditures on cafeterias as investments in employee performance, according to Kniffins. The study is published in the journal Human Performance.