Well readers, we’ve finally reached the last installment of this four-part series on effective workplace C & C. You know that the first “C” stands for communication; today we’ll discuss the second “C”…cooperation! Communication is an art that, with practice, you can master in the workplace. Cooperation, on the other hand, is a necessity that one must be ready to adopt right away when working with others. Today we will discuss seven different ways to boost cooperation amongst those who work together in your child nutrition program.

Practice positivity.

Nobody wants to work with a Grinch! I once saw a T-shirt that said “If the lunch lady ain’t happy…nobody’s happy!” While I thought this was pretty funny, I hope that it’s not the case in your child nutrition program! Try your best to start each day with a positive attitude, and even if you aren’t in the best mood, just “fake it ‘til you make it!” Bad things are going to happen; conflict, bad news and unexpected issues are often a daily occurrence. But it’s up to you to roll with the punches and try to see the best in every situation. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch when it comes to grumpy employees. Bad attitudes are contagious – just like good attitudes can be!

You are often the first person these children or other staff members interact with in the morning. Try your best to be a positive light for them first thing in the morning. You have the power to set others up for a full day of positivity! Just remind yourself when you get to work each morning, “I am in charge of how I feel, and today I am choosing happiness.”

Bridge generational gaps.

It seems as though baby boomers and millennials are starting t work together more often, especially in the child nutrition industry. Baby boomers, or those who were born in the years following World War II, are finding themselves on the same team as millennials, or those who were born in the 80’s and 90’s. The child nutrition industry is combining the forces of those who have been in the industry for several years and are beginning to think about retirement with the “young guns” who are fresh out of school and ready to begin their careers in the industry.

By 2020, almost half of the workforce will be made up of millennials. What can they bring to the table? They value things like happiness, passion, diversity, sharing and discovery, and perhaps the greatest thing about millennials is that they have potential. They can offer fresh ideas and perspectives, and they can work hard under pressure or when motivated. They are digital natives, meaning they have grown up using the latest technology and stay up-to-date with technological innovations. Millennials also have intense focus, and wish to see the world become a better place for their future families.

Baby boomers, on the other hand, value justice, integrity, family, practicality and duty. And the greatest thing about baby boomers? They have experience. Their brains are wired for what works, and what has worked for decades. They also have wisdom, and while they aren’t the best with the latest technology, they are willing to learn. Baby boomers want to see the world become a better place for their children and grandchildren.

To bridge generational gaps between baby boomers and millennials in your child nutrition program, set up some kind of mentorship program. These two diverse groups can work together to make great teams. Millennials want mentors to “show them the ropes”, and baby boomers generally want to pass along what they’ve learned to members of younger generations.

If you’re the boss…

This message on effective cooperation is for any of you who are in leadership roles in your child nutrition program. First, set up an onboarding process for new employees that facilitates cooperation. Don’t just introduce the new guy or gal to everyone on their first day; this can be confusing and overwhelming. Instead, help them to understand what each person on the staff does, and what their daily responsibilities look like. The new employee will then effectively go through the stages of feeling secure in their new role, trusting and valuing their new employer, feeling accepted and feeling like they belong.

Other ways you can stimulate cooperation amongst your employees is to surprise them with treats! Bring in a snack or free lunch once in a while to show your staff that you appreciate them. You can also plan and host potluck get-togethers where each staff member can contribute and socialize with his or her team outside of the workplace.

Find a communication plan that works.

When messages need to be communicated to your team, there are several ways to do it. Consider a mobile app for communicating mass messages, like GroupMe. GroupMe is a free app that staff members may download on their smartphones. Supervisors can then add all staff members to a group message where announcements and questions can be posted. This app is great because it does not take away from staff members’ text data, in case he or she has limited texts per month. You can also create a private Facebook group for your staff members to post announcements or questions. Group texts and mass emails are another avenue for communicating mass messages to your co-workers. Find which communication plan works best for your employees, figure out the best way to utilize it, and stick with it.

Let team members “do their thing”.

It is important to let your colleagues focus on what they do best, and to let them be themselves in the workplace. Maybe someone is extra proficient with chopping vegetables, or handling angry parties, dealing with the media, food presentation, documentation or working the POS. Let them do what they do best, and let them show others the best practices for completing that task. “Lunch and Learn” opportunities are also a great way to facilitate cooperation amongst the colleagues in your child nutrition program. Once a week (or month), host a 30-45 minute event where one team member can give a short presentation about a skill or strategy they know. It can be a culinary demonstration, or even something about their personal culture. With these “Lunch and Learn” events, you’re not only learning a valuable skill; you’re also learning more about the presenter.

Participate in team building activities.

To facilitate cooperation in your program, build your team through fun games and activities! Gather your team together at the beginning of the school year to play games like “Two Truths and Lie”. Each staff member shares three facts about himself or herself, with one of them being a lie. The other staff members then have to guess which fact was the lie. You can also ask team members to pair up and interview one another, then share three facts with the group about the colleague they interviewed.

It’s also a great idea to attend conferences together to facilitate cooperation in the workplace. When you attend conferences – like your state’s School Nutrition Association – as a team, you’re not only furthering your education, you’re also traveling together, eating together, and maybe even sightseeing in a new town.

Our company put together a company-wide Jenga tournament, and this activity helped bring us closer together as a team. This friendly competition helped us to get to know one another a little better, and brought a fun environment to the workplace. You can also set up a gong or bell in your workspace to be rung whenever something great happens – a big sale, increased participation by X percent, pulling off a big event, getting kids to try a food they normally reject. When they hear the gong or the bell, other teammates will get involved and want to congratulate one another for their achievements.

Have fun!

Although our jobs can be a little stressful at times, it is important to have fun! Consider putting upbeat music on in the office or the cafeteria to lighten the mood. You can even have dress-up days, with themes like Decade Day or Red Day, or even a wacky tie, earrings or socks day. The kids will love to see their child nutrition staff all dressed up, and it will bring a fun vibe to your work for the day. You can also celebrate birthday and holidays in a big way – like Christmas and Halloween – by why stop there? If you check out NationalDayCalendar.com, there is a different holiday every day of the year. Celebrate “National Pink Day”, or if the day is centered around a certain food, consider bringing that food into the serving line to celebrate!

These are just a few of the ways you can get to know your team a little better, and to facilitate cooperation amongst those you work with. And, as we all know, cooperation leads to happy, respectful and productive teams! If you have any other tips for boosting cooperation amongst the staff in your child nutrition program, please leave them below!

Read the first, second and third parts of this series by clicking the links.