There are all sorts of ways to build bonds among team members. Some businesses go to extremes to do it—luxurious weekend retreats, city-wide scavenger hunts, even treks to exotic locales like Machu Picchu, Mount Kilimanjaro and Bhutan. To keep your employees connected and engaged, you don’t need to spend gobs of money and time on complicated trips or scenarios. In fact, those efforts often backfire and employees don’t find them valuable, instead resenting the time and energy consumed by the event. Or worse, team members not included resent those who do

For a small business especially, team building doesn’t have to be a complicated endeavor. A small company generally has a small team, so building intimacy and bonds between employees and management can be as simple as lunch.  That’s because the act of eating together is often “extraordinarily meaningful,” says Kevin Kniffin, who was a visiting assistant professor of applied economics and management at Cornell University when he and several colleagues conducted a study to learn if eating together in the office resulted in higher-performing, more cohesive teams.

Kniffin and his colleagues studied firefighters who prepared and ate meals together during their shifts. The researchers wanted to know if firefighters who ate together performed better on the job than those who didn’t. The answer?

They did.  

Platoons that ate meals together had better group job performance than firefighting teams that dined alone. Kniffin says, “Eating together is a more intimate act than looking over an Excel spreadsheet together. That intimacy spills back over into work.”

Having company-wide (if your business is very small) or team lunches at least once a week is a great way for employees to stay connected to each other on a deeper level.  At Hatchbuck, we are intentional  about eating lunch together. And it has done wonders for our culture and the ability to build deeper relationships with team members.


team lunches


It is also a good way to help new hires get dug in and feel like they are part of the team.  Although physical team building activities might seem like fun—zip-lining, for example, or a dance class—some of that is also based on fitness level and coordination, so the playing field isn’t level. Cooking, on the other hand, or ordering a meal,  is generally something everyone can do, and sitting together to eat it makes it easy for everyone to participate equally.

Here are a few ways to get the most out of weekly team lunches:

Send an invitation.

Send a weekly invitation to lunch to your team — or all employees, if your company is very small — and ask invitees to put it on their calendar. Try to keep the lunch on the same day and at the same time each week, so people come to expect it and work it into their schedules.

Buy, bring or both.

Depending on how much you want to invest in these lunches, you can have them catered or ask each person to either bring their own lunch or buy it—whatever they normally do. You can also do a combination of both. Once a month, for example, you could hire a food truck to come to the office and treat employees to lunch. They can carry it back into the office where everyone then eats together.  

Organize periodic potluck lunches.

Once a month make the group lunch “potluck” style and ask each person to bring a dish, whether that’s something homemade or bought.  Potluck-style lunches are usually the most social kind of group lunch. Make sure to survey all attendees prior to putting potlucks into your lunch rotation to find out any food allergies or preferences, and then circulate that information to the whole team.

Feature a team member.  

Many tech companies put a priority on eating together and use that time to foster productivity and learning. Use one team lunch each month for a ‘Lunch and Learn’ session. Have one team member give a presentation about a topic of interest to the group, your company or himself. Nothing like walking away from lunch with newfound knowledge.

Invite a speaker.

At the well-known Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator, group lunches also feature a talk by an outside expert. Think about alternating team member presentations with monthly talks from an expert — offering insights and information that will enhance the professional and personal lives of employees. This could be a discussion about mentoring and networking, or about time management and the importance of meditation, exercise, and other forms of stress release — anything that will be useful to your employees inside or outside of the office.

Be creative.

Have a themed lunch—if not every week then maybe once a month. It could be coincide with an upcoming holiday, employees anniversaries/birthdays, or just something fun (like Taco Tuesday or Fried Chicken Friday).  It’s silly, but it also acts as an ice-breaker. If you want to take it to the next level, encourage employees to wear themed clothing (like, say, a sombrero) or to bring meaningful dishes that they can discuss with the group.

So the next time you are looking for easy, effective ways to bolster team bonding…just do lunch. When you spend time together around the lunch table, it gives you the chance to better connect with your team and find commonalities needed to build strong, long-term relationships.