Your Management Team: Smarter than a High Schooler?

The best management teams are balanced, cover each other’s blind spots and use their time wisely to make outstanding decisions.

On February 7, I volunteered along with a group of restaurant industry professionals to staff and judge the 2012 Dallas Regional Texas ProStart Restaurant Competition.  The event was sponsored by the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association and Texas Restaurant Association Education Foundation at the Arlington Convention Center.  High school culinary and restaurant management teams competed to go to the state finals, in pursuit of a berth at the National Pro Start Invitational in Baltimore this spring.

My team of four judges was responsible for evaluating the management teams’ critical thinking ability, posing business challenges to them and grading their responses.  Other judges reviewed their fictional business plans, presentations, and menus.

Like management teams in any business, these teams took on a personality of their own, which I reviewed in the later feedback sessions.  One team was “smart, fast, action,” others were ”thoughtful and reflective,” “personality and hospitality,” and “concept and detail.”  It was interesting to see how groups of students came together through friendship, common interests, or the leadership of their educators to create their own vibe, culture, or approach.

The best companies combine people with different perspectives into teams in order to cover their blind spots.  Likewise, I really wanted to blend the “thoughtful and reflective” teens with their “personality and hospitality” counterparts to build an unbeatable group.  But since the contestants were sorted by high school, that was not going to happen.

The teams also reminded me of the value of taking all the time available to make a decision.  Each team had 20 minutes to craft their responses to the four critical-thinking questions that we posed.  The answers that came back in five or ten minutes were good, but all the teams could have profited by taking the full 20-minute time allotment.  It is true that great organizations act quickly in response to challenges.  But companies that act prematurely instead of using breathing room to craft the best response, do so at their peril.  Just like a high schooler.

ProStart is a two-year high school curriculum designed by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) to develop talent for the future of an industry that is hungry for it.  By exposing  teens to the many different careers the industry has to offer, it is both a “feel-good” and a “do-good” program for the NRA.  It doesn’t hurt that this program is being promoted at a time when chefs are treated like full-blown rock stars on reality television.  I saw more than one high schooler proudly sporting a chef’s hat around the floor of the convention center at the regional competition.