Commensal’s common sense

I must admit I was a tad nervous last Friday, the reason being that I‘m not the best on a barbeque. You see, at Kernel Property, we set aside every Friday morning to have a team breakfast together. Each week we take it in turn to fire up the ‘barbie’, and prepare a cooked breakfast. Well, as I am the newbie, and this was the inaugural brekkie for 2017 with the whole team together, it was my responsibility to cook. Luckily we all prepare together, so I had some great help. It’s a fantastic way to end each week, reflect on successes, share experiences and discuss the upcoming weekend.

Commensal – for those that don’t know (and that until recently also included me) – means eating together at the same table. The word was derived from the Medieval Latin commensalis, where the ‘com’ means ‘together’, and the ‘mensa’ derives from the word ‘table’.

The sharing of food has always been part of the human story. In every culture, human beings have eaten together. Commensality is a fundamental social activity, which creates and cements relationships.

We may have evolved in many other ways, but food has always been one thing that has brought us together. From the Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv came evidence of ancient meals prepared at a 300,000-year-old hearth, the oldest ever found, where diners gathered to eat together. Retrieved from the ashes of Vesuvius: a circular loaf of bread with scoring marks, baked to be divided. “To break bread together,” a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, and provoke laughter.

Shared food promotes friendship, fellowship, and communication, and functions as social glue. In particular, the organizing of a meal in itself is a great way to bond and strengthen relationships. Eating food together is a great way to relax and an opportunity to talk together in a group.

Eating is a time of vulnerability, we’re often more comfortable eating on our own. However, it’s unhealthy for us to do so – emotionally as well as physically, because we constantly need to practice our social skills and experience the enjoyment of being with other people and performing “togetherness”.

In the workplace, eating together as a team or group has the same benefits that have been demonstrated time and again for families: it fosters a sense of belonging and a shared, meaningful experience that can build supportive networks.

Within the workplace it is important to design your space so that it fosters the right eating and social environments that enable teams and groups to sit and eat together easily. For example, try to avoid round four person tables, and have square tables that can easily be moved and join together. At Atlassian, I saw this every day with both large and small teams coming together over food, and the connections it created. I’m fortunate, now, to be able to continue a similar experience with our weekly breakfast.

To end, researchers guess that we (and our distant ancestors) have been sharing meals for nearly two million years, and we certainly should not give it up now, so get your team together, organise a weekly time to prepare food and eat together.

You know what they say, “eat together, succeed together”. Well, I believe my first breakfast was a success.

Thanks for reading.

Kai

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