Lunch in or out – the company culture dilemma

Blue Mango, Santa Clara CAI have read a few blog entries about the need to bring lunch in so that workers stay in the office. There is an opposing view that it doesn’t really gain the business much by providing free in-house lunches.
My personal opinion is that this type of activity by itself will not build or break a start-up. You might see this as a way to gauge the personality of the team. Do they like hanging out together? One solution is to have a blended lunch in/out model where you pick a place close to the office to have lunch for the team. It gets everyone out of the office and to a neutral place where they can bond. It makes sense when the number of people within the company is manageable.

Company Culture
Going back to the point about team personality. It cannot be stated enough how important teamwork and company culture are critical to a group of people achieving their goals. Beyond just serving lunch, there are other areas to look at that help to form company culture. For example, does everyone work on the same office schedule, is the layout of the building conducive to working together and is the reporting structure flat or a hierarchy. All of these are important aspects but I’ll start with the first question this time and talk about the others another time.

Does everyone work on the same office schedule?
If your sales, marketing, engineering and exec team all work different hours with limited overlap, then you will run into problems. I am a firm believer that in a start-up you should work the same hours as your customers and your engineers. Thus if your customers start calling at 8am and your engineers are at work until 10pm, then the other parts of your organization should model themselves around these hours. That may mean being accessible on email early in the morning or late a night, but it is critical to be within a Skype session or phone call away. This becomes much more difficult when you are servicing different regions, but that just means it is a test of your companies commitment to success in these foreign regions. If you are a 9 to 5 type of person and don’t check e-mail or IM at home, then please spare your start-up co-workers and join a grocery store or bank.

Why a blog on lunches?
Company culture is one of the most difficult aspects of start-ups to establish since it is essentially determined by the relationships between individuals and their sense of responsibility to the group. There are no magic tricks to build a perfect company, but you can start by building around the right people. And when it comes to lunch, your employees might already have their favorite lunch places or afternoon coffee hang outs. It may be a good idea to facilitate those ‘out-of-office’ meetings as much as reasonably possible.

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