Dinner together as a family was a key part of how we raised our children and how we kept our family so tightly knit for years. No matter what you had to accomplish in a given day, you did your damnedest not to miss dinner. I often left the office, came home to share a meal, and headed back into the office.
Dinner at Home
There were no boundaries at the dinner table. There didn't need to be. We talked about everything. We asked the kids to share their days. We shared ours. We talked about serious family matters. And we joked around with each other. Oh, how we joked. It was rare we made it through dinner without milk shooting out of somebody's nose. There were always spare napkins for just such an occasion.
Dinner was often the highlight of the day. We came together as a unit. We could talk about anything. We learned about one another. We helped one another through trying times. The bonds we forged and the love we created at that table was nothing short of magical.
Our children would often bring other kids over for dinner. Nothing changed. All were welcome. All were family when they sat to eat with us.
Some of those kids were appalled. They thought it was "weird" and "stupid." They thought it was wrong to be that open with your parents. They told our children so. And our children simply stopped hanging out with those kids. If you couldn't survive dinner at our house, you weren't a long-term friend.
Now and then, we'd go out to dinner. When we sat in a booth together, surrounded by other patrons in their own booths, we were more reserved. We didn't joke as much. Milk through the nose at a restaurant is embarrassing for a 12 year old kid. But sometimes, I just couldn't hold the milk in.... These were still moments where memories were made, but we were at our best, our truest selves when we were in the privacy of home.
Restaurants with a more open seating arrangement, where you shared a long table with other people or where tables were all very close to one another, were a different story entirely. We became more conscious of our surroundings; aware that there were people who might be bothered by our antics. So we kept our voices down. There were a lot of topics, the serious and important ones, that we simply didn't cover during these meals. The more sensitive, the less likely we'd bring it up. Others would overhear. We didn't feel comfortable being entirely open and honest. And often, while I couldn't hear my children very well, I could certainly hear the guy sitting closest to me talking about his miserable job and his aching bunions with his wife.
I am absolutely certain that if we'd eaten often at restaurants, would wouldn't have been able to create the bonds we created. We wouldn't be as connected and loving as a family. And I thank my wife for teaching me this valuable life lesson.
Today, when I walk into an office and I see teams sharing an office together, I see a team at the family dinner table; frank, genuine, forthright, and truly bonded. When I see teams in work areas together, I see a team sitting in a booth at a restaurant; bonds are being built, but not as deep, not as productive. And when I see teams in open work spaces, I see a team at a shared table in a crowded restaurant; reserved, guarded, and distracted.
Put your teams at the family dinner table or at least in their own booth.
You'll benefit from it. Just don't forget the napkins.