Life Lessons from “Chopped Junior”

I am a fan of Food Network’s Chopped® cooking show.  I am an even bigger Chopped Junior fan.

Chopped Junior - blog imageI am amazed at the skill and creativity of the Chopped chefs in taking a mass of ingredients (some of which are very foreign to me) and combining them into a dish that is edible and, in fact, enjoyable.

But of course, this would astound me for my motto is “give me a recipe or give me take-out!”

I am even more amazed at the pre-teen chefs competing on Chopped Junior. Did I even know how to boil water at the age of 11?

Beyond the creative cooking skills, these young people provide us with behavioral lessons to apply both at work and at home.

First of all – the Chopped Junior contestants offer their help freely – to each other – during the heat of battle.

The other day, one contestant had plated her entree round and had time to spare. She noticed another contestant was struggling and may not have completed her plating. She offered to help. Help was accepted and plating was completed within the time limit. The judges noticed the kind gesture.

On Chopped, you rarely see a contestant digging in to help others. In some cases, I have even seen contestants refuse to give an extra ingredient that they have on their table to a fellow contestant in need.

Secondly, the Chopped Junior contestants encourage each other.

At the end of each round, the eliminated contestant will hug or shake hands with his/her competitors. Whereas on Chopped, you see the chopped contestant leave the area without a glance at his/her competitors.

Third, the Chopped Junior contestants see failure as a learning opportunity.

Each Chopped Junior contestant speaks to the lessons they have learned and the value of the experience as they leave the studio. Whereas on Chopped, you often hear the competitors saying that they know better than the judges and that their dish was, indeed, superior. They believe they were wrongly chopped!

Why the vast difference?  Is it due to the “dangling carrot” of the $10,000 prize to the winner? The Chopped contestants are planning to use their winnings for their livelihood. The Chopped Junior contestants covet the Chef’s jacket while their winnings will go into their college fund.

As we often see, a scarcity mentality leads to behaviors unbecoming to adults.

Maybe it is time for all of us “all-knowing grownups” to take a lesson from these 11- and 12-year old aspiring chefs? Maybe it is time for us to respond to our life’s situations with the maturity and composure of the Chopped Junior contestants?

  • Offer help freely.
  • Encourage each other.
  • See failure as a learning opportunity.

Exercising these simple lessons could very well result in all of us being winners, regardless of our chosen path!


Who’s Your Team?

Two scenarios:

You lead a team of direct reports.

You are a member of a team reporting to the same manager.

Which team is your priority with regard to accountability? Who do you put first?

Many of us will say the team we lead. And yes, I have said the same thing. But that was before I read the works of Patrick Lencioni and learned about his five-stage model described in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In essence, Lencioni says that your “first team” is the team of which you are a member – your peer team. (Read “Thoughts from the Field – Issue # 9 – What is Your First Team?” to learn more about his views.)

I’ll be honest, my initial reaction to this was “what?” Being a huge believer in the role of a manager as a developer of talent and a communicator of substantive feedback, I thought shifting allegiance from your direct reports to your peers was equivalent to the captain abandoning ship. But Lencioni is not suggesting that you shift allegiance (it’s not one or the other), but that you reprogram your focus to the broader organization and the work needed to realize its mission. It’s a “heads-up – scanning right and left” versus “heads-down – tunnel-vision” perspective.

Let’s look at why.

When you think of the word “team,” the first thought that comes to mind may be “high-performing” or it may be “competition”. In organizations, we know that the desired behavior for team members is collaboration. But, as a team leader, when we look across multiple teams in an organization, doesn’t a tiny competitive thought enter your mind? Isn’t there a moment (maybe even fleeting) when you think, “My team is better than your team?” Face it, when we lead teams, we have the tendency to believe our team is (or will be) the best. Does this type of thinking result in silo management?

Now think of your peer team. You report to the same person.   You may have distinctly different areas of focus, but your goals are (hopefully) very similar. It is your combined effort that executes your strategy. By being an equal among equals, you now see how each piece fits and how your joint contributions make the mission happen.

What are the benefits of this switch in priority (team member versus team leader)?

Diversification of perspectives. As I said above, you may have very different focus areas and very different responsibilities. That difference is enlightening. Each member becomes the “honest broker” who brings to light observations and options that may be outside others’ thought processes.

Collaboration replacing competition. Instead of the “my team did better than your team” discussion, you know have the opportunity to view the puzzle as a whole. Collaboration brings about synergy.

Accountability that is easier to establish and sustain. As a team, you each have the same goals. Your path to get there may be different due to the variance of roles, but you are all responsible for the same outcome. So, if one doesn’t achieve, the whole doesn’t achieve. Sound harsh? Nope. We make it together or we don’t make it.

So how does this happen? How do you change an organization’s mindset from tunnel-vision individual downstream team priority to broad-spectrum collective priority?

State (and restate) your intentions. Yes, the team you lead is very important and should continue to have a huge influence on how you lead. But, the team of which you are a member is the team to whom you are accountable, first and foremost.

Change your measures. Accountability requires measurement. Instead of individual team metrics, create collective organizational metrics.

Create new communication paths. You may have to revise your communication methods and opportunities. Do you and your team members meet collectively? Do you have robust discussions on the collective goals/measures? How is each member accountable to the team?

Reinforce the “new normal” and celebrate the successes resulting from this new mindset. The pull to return to one’s departmental silos may be strong without constant reminders and reinforcement. It’s work to do things differently. But, the work is well worth the reward.

Your challenge is to envision how this will work in your organization. Imagine the exponential growth and productivity that will result with team members truly accountable to each other.

Start treating your team in this manner. Encourage (and expect) the team that you lead to do the same. The parts join to become a collective whole. Now, that’s high performance!

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

— Phil Jackson