Friday, October 30, 2009

Yielding the Pen: Privilege

Cherished guests,

I am so pleased to welcome Lisa, of the unfailingly remarkable and sharply witty page, Privilege.

From the outset you can sense the management sure-footedness which carved this valuable essay for those who hold a manager's position now, as well as those who aspire to one later. This document is a keeper: Tucked into the front of Entertaining or How to Get Your Team Rowing in the Same Direction, it will be equally as valuable a reference related to both areas as time goes by.

Set an example others can follow, and you will never need to tell them to follow you. Lisa is that caliber of manager, no question. Enjoy it, as you can tell, I truly have.


Let's say you, or your spouse/partner, manage a team. A good-sized, but not enormous group. Somewhere between 8-20 people. Let's say that you want to host the team for dinner at your house. This can bring a team closer together, help them understand each other's cultures, and foster informal communication that makes work more efficient and way more fun over time. Or it can be a disaster.

The Blushing Hostess and I want to help you avoid disaster. And while it's not wildly difficult, the how-to is not completely self-evident.

As a manager, or the spouse/partner of a manager, you can use personal hospitality in a unique way. You can improve your team's working relationship. You will, however, have to step outside the traditional host/hostess parameters. To do this, like anything else in your career, you need clear priorities. (Aren't careers annoying like that?) You want to provide comfort, leadership, and a space to deepen cooperation. Your house is a good venue, as people like to see how you live. It shows your personal side. But you never want to forget that you, or your spouse/partner, are the manager. So what are your goals?
  1. Assert leadership (Let's face it, the higher up you get, the more subordinates are gunning for your job. You need to remind them, without appearing to do so, who is boss. Those are who comfortable with your leadership like to see it in action.)
  2. Develop loyalty (People want to know that even though it's a work relationship, you see them as human beings. That's how you gain loyalty that persists beyond your latest success.)
  3. Build team feeling (Your team will work better together when the informal communication processes are robust)
  4. Reward performance (Coming to your house is a reward. You are the boss. They want time with you.)
Every part of the event, from invitation, to menu, to decor, to schedule, can help you do whatever it is you need to do. At the end of the day, you're the boss.

6 Ways To Ensure Long-Lasting Team Impact
  1. Appoint someone on the team as party-master, i.e. they send the invitations on your behalf, and they manage and confirm the R.S.V.P's.
  2. Do most of the cooking and prep before the team begins to arrive.
  3. Leave some tasks for the team to complete, ways for them to contribute.
  4. Show some thought, but little effort.
  5. Focus more on the group dynamic and time together than food, drink, decor.
  6. Be responsible about alcohol and how you present it.

Appoint someone senior on your team to send the invitation in your place. Don't use Evite, have her/him send an email from the work account and keep track of who is coming. If you appoint someone creative, let them have fun, but make sure you approve before it's sent off. Make clear that this is a personal invitation, and not a work function.

Decor and Ambiance

  • Use china that can go in the dishwasher. Not paper, but not your fancy stuff either. You don't want anyone feeling terrible if there's breakage.
  • Candles on a table will warm the room, set the stage for relaxing just enough of the office constraints. Not too many. We aren't filming an episode of The Office here.
  • Almost certainly, someone will bring you a bunch of flowers. They are apt to be measly supermarket flowers - your people are busy, right? So if you put out flowers yourself, I recommend using simple ones from your yard, or a supermarket bunch, yourself. That way you won't overshadow the person who thinks to bring you some.
  • Using your real silver is optional. My silver is so simple that no one would feel uncomfortable stabbing their food.
  • Avoid table seating in favor of everyone perching on various seats. Drag dining room chairs into the living room. Once you seat people at a table, the hierarchy rears its head. People will want to sit next to their friends, or next to you. You want to keep things fluid.
  • Music is optional, and if used, should be wordless. The social dynamic of the workplace is powerful, and that's what you are looking to enhance.
  • For your team dinner, comfort is the most important part of your food, impressing anyone is secondary. (What, you never show off? Oops. I do.) On the other hand, people want to feel you made an effort, so I'd avoid the throwing a hot dog at a hot flame approach.
  • Set out cheese and vegetables to start, people may be hungry when they arrive. And they might be shy to say anything to their boss, like, "Umm, when is dinner again?"
  • Try to give a nod to any particular cultures in your group. For example, many Asians prefer to have rice with every meal, and are really pleased when it's available along with the usual Western bread or pasta.
  • Grilling is your friend. Skewers are your friend. Choice is your guests' friend. So offer a choice of skewers - beef for those who feel short-changed without red meat, chicken for the health-conscious, and tofu for the vegetarians. Yes, actually, grilled tofu is pretty good if you use your favorite meat marinade. And people do love to gather around a flame, discussing the physics of heat and meat. Primal and all that.
  • If you feel responsible for their health, grill vegetables on skewers too. (I always do. It's required by law in California.) Sweet potatoes are great. So are onions. So is asparagus.
  • Serve a choice of dipping sauces. I've given you two of my favorite recipes below. But use your own as you choose.
  • For dessert, serve skewers of fruit, and have a make-it-yourself s'mores bar at the grill. People relax when you give them permission to revert to their kid selves. So what if they get marshmallow goop on the Weber? Just burn it off later.
  • Don't serve salads. Leaves of lettuce always escape from plates and forks. People really don't want to spill food on their boss's sofa.
Here are two great recipes for dipping sauces. The bright green and red are an extra-added bonus.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce
From China Moon Cookbook, by Barbara Tropp
(Tropp worships the food she has you cook. If you like cooking the effort is worth it).

3 medium red bell peppers, roasted, stemmed, peeled, and coarsely chopped. (Note: To roast bell peppers put them in a broiler at 500 degrees and roast until blackened, throw them into a sealed container for a while, open when cooler and peel off the skins)
3 slices sun-dried tomato, soaked briefly in boiling water until softened, drained
1 1/2 finely minced garlic
1/2 cup unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar (i.e. no sugar added, read the label carefully)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup Five-Flavor Oil (this is an infused oil she gives a recipe for elsewhere in the cookbook. You can substitute 1/6 cup of vegetable oil, a couple of tablespoons of toasted sesame oil, a teeny pinch of dried red chili flakes, a little minced ginger, and some ground pepper. Szechuan peppercorns, if you have them, but again, this evening isn't about food pyrotechnics.)
1 1/2 tablespoons China Moon Hot Chili Oil ( again, this is an infused oil recipe. You can substitute a good commercial hot chili oil)
2 tablespoons "goop" from China Moon Hot Chili Oil (use a good commercial hot chili paste)
1 cup packed cilantro leaves and stems, chopped

(Tangy, sweet, spicy. I like it with beef.) Combine the roasted bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes in a good processor. Process until nearly smooth. Add the garlic and pulse to blend. Combine the vinegars with the sugar and sea salt and add to the red pepper mixture. With the machine running, combine the oils and "goop," and add slowly, running machine until the sauce emulsifies, 1 to 2 minutes. Stop the machine, add the chopped cilantro, and pulse until the cilantro is finely minced. (If preparing in advance, add the cilantro just before serving.) Taste and adjust with a bit more salt, sugar, and/or vinegar, if needed, depending on the flavor and sweetness of the peppers. Don't be shy. Fiddle with it until you get a taste you like.

Blender Salsa Verde
From Appetite, by Nigel Slater
(Slater is the type of cook who writes funny recipes and tells people to sod off and not be such whingers. I love him.)

(This sauce is very piquant, a little salty. Slater recommends it for white fish. I like it with chicken.) My basic recipe is to whiz all or most of the following in the blender: the leaves from a large bunch of flat parsley and a few sprigs of mint, 6 anchovy fillets, a couple of cloves of garlic, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, a couple of tablespoons of capers, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Now pour in enough olive oil to reduce it all to a lumpy slurry the color of that green stuff that floats on the pond in summer. Taste and check; you might find you want it with more mustard or lemon.


People are particular about what they want to drink, and the wrong drinks can make them crabby. In the non-alcoholic category make sure you have sparkling water, diet/regular sodas, and fruit juice. In the alcohol world, most importantly make sure that no one has too much. That said, it's fun to serve a drink that requires the blender. One of your team gets to run the machine - good for those who hate small talk. (You know, your technical genius who doesn't really understand the point of people?) A whirring blender adds to the celebratory atmosphere, and you can keep the level of alcohol low. Offer enough good wine for everyone to have a glass - $12/bottle is about the minimum, with bottled beer for those who don't drink wine. And, at end of the night, if you feel that everyone has been moderate in their drinking, you can serve brandy or cognac. There is something about a wee bit o' brandy in a snifter that can bring about a moment of reflection and fellow feeling.

Management and Logistics
  • Have the party on a Friday. Start by 5pm so people can leave the office a little early.
  • The early birds should be put to work cutting - make sure to caution them on knife safety, show them how to cut an onion without crying, etc. It's amazing what some people don't know and are embarrassed to confess.
  • You can let your team clean up one load of dishes before they go home. Some people really don't feel comfortable leaving a host with a dirty kitchen. But this is a matter of personal taste, regional habits, and your company culture.
  • Monitor sobriety. Ask everyone if they are OK to drive before they leave. Make it a blanket question, then no one feels embarrassed or singled out.
Finally, take a moment during the night and watch. Look at your people. See how they interact. Make a mental note. And track progress over the next few months as you continue to tune your team's performance.

Party: flickr, jawcey's photostream, Creative Commons
Silverware: LPC's personal files. My mother got me this set, from the London Silver Vaults. But that's another story altogether.
Cookbooks: Amazon and Amazon
Cognac: flickr, radix999's photostream, Creative Commons


Karena said...

This is a great social party primer. I love using your silver, making it easy on everyone. Also a blend of musics from calming to upbeat I find shuffling in the DVD, sets a nice background. Love your site!

jpooh said...

Hmmm...we throw the employees a Christmas party in our home every year. I had no idea that I was doing so much right!

Jan from the Sushi Bar

Mrs. G said...

Great post, kind of makes me wish I had a team!

vintage simple said...

Okay - so what *is* the trick to cutting onions without crying?? (I have no qualms about confessing my ignorance.) Warm water doesn't do anything for my onions. I still bawl my eyes out practically every time I cook...


EntertainingMom said...

Great pointers, great tips and great suggestions. (I too like to impress with my food.) I wanted to point out that this would be good for any team setting, not just an office. I am very active with my school's PTA and am co-chair of Ways and Means. I was thinking of having a Thank - You dinner at the end of the year... and all these suggestions and tips can be put into place. Thank you!

Maureen@IslandRoar said...

Wow, you certainly covered all the bases. And those dips sound yummy. I also never tried sweet potatos on skewers, but I love them, so now I will.

Duchesse said...

Good primer for a very American style of entertaining, and therefore also useful to foreign execs hosting or invited to American "team" parties.

Personally I would rather have brought my team to my pap test than my home, even though I pretty much did it this way and all seemed to enjoy it. But there was far too much "oh can I see the rest of the house?" and I caught one woman checking out my clothes closet! My home is deeply private space. And I am definitely going to make the dipping sauces... for my friends.

smiles4u said...

This is really great practical information that can make any party or gathering flow. I love the recipes...I plan on printing them off and making them in the near future. Great post!

class-factotum said...

This is a wonderful post and I would love to go to a party chez Lisa but my dilemma with my jobs was always that I had no interest whatsoever in spending my free time with my boss. If I was with my boss, I was working. I would much rather he have taken me to a nice lunch. Not on Saturday or Sunday. During working hours.

Indeed, that was what I did with my team -- once a quarter, I grabbed my company AmEx and it was out to some fun restaurant with the group.

LPC said...

Catherine, thanks again for yielding the pen here. Perhaps we can have a virtual party, some day. I bet the food would be delicious. We've all got team of one sort or another, right?

The Preppy Princess said...

Such a divine post Miss LPC, with outstanding tips, some of which are easy to forget if one has toned down the frequency of doing this. And like others, we love the notion of sweet potatoes being skewered, it simply never crossed our mind!

You are a "hostess with the mostess' to be sure!

Anonymous said...

I don't think beer needs to be bottled. More and more micro-breweries are putting their beers in cans because it's better for the environment. If you can get those and pour them into pint glasses, I think it's a great option.