Italian Execs Cook Their Way To Corporate Cohesion

In keeping with their country’s world famous culinary heritage, Italy’s top corporations have abandoned standard team-building activities in favor of group cooking classes.

Chef for a day (IFSE)
Chef for a day (IFSE)
Grazia Longo

TORINO - Pinstripe trousers and smart skirts poke out from underneath aprons. Unruly tufts of hair escape chef hats. But nobody notices. Instead, everyone is totally focused on making the perfect pot roast, all the time keeping an eye on their teammates' movements and the progress of the rival squads.

No, we're not at a cooking competition for aspiring master chefs. The people gathered around the marble counters of the hi-tech kitchens of the Italian Food Style Education organization (IFSE) just outside of the northern city of Turin, are managers from some of Italy's most prestigious companies.

They come to the IFSE, hosted in the charming Piobesi Castle, to learn the art of working well with others. The cooking sessions are a team-building exercise aimed at teaching corporate managers how to improve their ability to collaborate, compete and manage. They are chaperoned at the ovens by star chefs and assistants recruited by IFSE's director, Raffaele Trovato, and its president, Piero Boffà.

The 46-year-old Trovato, a veteran chef, has a penchant for connecting psychology to economics. "Creating a team is hard work. These sorts of events help to teach lessons in collaboration that can be applied to the work environment."

These kinds of team-building classes are increasingly popular in Italy, where retreats amidst pots and pans and egg timers are replacing the whitewater rafting and paragliding outings that had long been popular with corporations.

"The kitchen is a microcosm that mirrors the reality of the office," says Trovato. "If you are not well organized, if you do not know how to coordinate your teammates and how to balance the cooking times with the various instructions, the final result will be a failure. Cooking a dish of prawns or a Sacher cake is an easier and more fun way to learn."

Team building in the kitchen helps develop essential managerial skills. Whether the participants are architects or engineers from construction companies, managers of certification agencies or consultancy firms, or executives as manufacturing groups, the exercise is always the same. The kitchen enables them to work in small groups, to better communicate, to delegate and understand people in the work place.

At IFSE, food is also used as a vehicle to improve communication, and to help managers mature emotionally and develop leadership skills. Participants are also encouraged to have fun. The mangers all get caught up in the act of chopping, frying, and baking.

Each cooking session -- involving some 30 managers, divided into groups of five to eight members – ends with a dinner, giving the participants a chance to appreciate the fruits of their time labor. The sit-down meals also give the amateur chefs a chance to practice some of their newly-honed interpersonal skills.

Read the original article in Italian


Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!