What Cooking with My Extended Family Taught Me about Teamwork

August 25, 2022 Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Every summer, my extended family relocates to the Finger Lakes region in Central New York. The number of camps occupied by family members along the same cove of our lake has grown from the original M.A.S.H. tent in 1947 to five actual cottages today.

My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I have over the years become the “Dinner Dream Team” at the lake. Because our cottages are a solid 40 minutes from a store, restaurants are also far away and usually packed, and a lot of people need to eat all the time (three meals a day plus snacks!), we think a lot about how we will meet that need. The three of us meet every week or so to plan out who will honcho dinner, and for how many, on any given night. It spreads the planning and labor out a bit and we work amazingly well together.

As summer is beginning to wind down, I have been reflecting on what I’ve learned about myself and teamwork from this experience. Here’s what has become clear to me.

1. When I fail to harness and leverage others, I always end up feeling overworked and resentful.

While I know everything will be ultimately easier and better if I recruit a team, the idea I most have to fight against is that it would be easier to just do everything myself. This is never true.

The advantage of building a team shows up in very clear ways when I am hosting a big dinner at my place. Just when I think there will be eight people for dinner, it turns out a new crew has arrived at the lake and suddenly there are 12. For my husband’s birthday, the guest list went from 18 to 26 people at the last minute—and in that case, if I had failed to get help I would have ended up overworked, resentful, and hot, sweaty, and cranky to boot.

2. People love to help, they tend to enjoy being given a job, and they like the feeling of contributing.

So the key for me is to find ways to make it easy for people to help without making more work for myself in the long run. I try to think of tasks that need to be done closer to the actual meal and I set up workstations with all the equipment needed. So when I say, “Please slice the tomatoes,” no one is looking for a cutting board, a good knife, and a platter for serving the tomatoes. It is all ready to go for them.

Same with setting the table—I get everything out and say, “Here are the placemats, napkins, and silverware. Please set the table.”

Or I harness the power of the less skilled (teenagers) and when they show up I hand them a lighter, have them set an alarm on their phone, and tell them to light all the candles when the alarm goes off. I get them to show up early for a corn shucking party, tell them where to sit, and give them a big trash bag.

I’ve recognized that the key is providing genial direction when someone is new to a task and stepping back when they have experience. This is exactly the same thing we’ve been teaching with our SLII® leadership program at The Ken Blanchard Companies for over 40 years. It just keeps popping up in so many aspects of life.

3. Give people space to grow and develop.

This means not rolling my eyes when things aren’t done the way I think they need to be done. I mean, who cares if the tomatoes aren’t cut the way I like? When I give someone a task and they do it differently from the way I would have, I often learn new approaches and get lots of great ideas.

Planning out the steps, asking for help (because people like to help!), and providing resources and direction to team members makes life so much better. For me, it just requires that I get over my own resistance to asking others to do things and have the patience to set people up to win and to do a good job.

How about you? Any learnings this summer you’ll be bringing back to the workspace?

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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