Office potlucks. In some companies, they are a treasured, anticipated tradition. In others, it's a dreaded obligation that people look forward to being over. So what do they say about your organizational culture?
In a successful potluck, i.e., a gathering where guests bring a dish to share with everyone else, all guests participate and bring their best, and the guests generally enjoy each other's company and the food. If your office potluck doesn't go well, here are ways to interpret the things that can go wrong.
- Only a few play. I attended a potluck once where only about a quarter of the guests brought a dish. Some tried to make what we had feed everyone, but in the end, people just left. This sometimes can be an indication of guests not wanting to invest personally in their work environment. Another indicator is office decor--how many personal items (photos, desk items) are around?
- People bring what's easy. At another potluck at that same organization, we had several bags of chips and one person emptied out the candy bowl in the reception area to bring for their "dish." In this case, guests resented that the company was not willing to invest in a small lunch for the staff. The perception was, "the company is being cheap."
- No one wants to go. Maybe people don't want to spend time with each other? In one situation I observed, guests skirted the edge of the room, swept in and snagged what food they could put on a plate quickly, and went back to their offices. This organization has many silos, and these silos were demonstrated in the potluck attendance.
Good teams generally enjoy each other's company, so I use potlucks as a litmus test for how people get along.