Posted: Jan 16, 2007 5:48pm ET
My beliefs on team-building are a bit radical. I believe that, in order to achieve something great, people must be able to work together as if their lives depend on it. In a less extreme sense, they must trust each other unconditionally. In a restaurant environment, there sometimes exist divisions between people in different parts of the hierarchy. When we opened Sona, we basically eliminated those divisions, making it clear that we were one team going after one objective, which is to provide the ultimate dining experience.
At Sona, we rely on daily team-building exercises that are both serious and fun, to help build friendships and provide a much-needed break from the intensity of the restaurant. At our pre-service meeting, we discuss the game plan for a successful night, but also lighten it up a bit with some meditation or focused stretching. Every year, we have a Navy Seals-style training where everyone—from the CFO to the dishwashers—are divided into teams that compete in physically and mentally grueling activities, like sit-ups and push-ups in the freezing cold ocean water. This starts at 4 AM. By pushing themselves and their teammates, the staff learns how to work together in a situation where conditions are not ideal.
I have an immense respect for those who choose this profession, because it's not only a job—it's a life choice that requires the highest level of dedication and discipline. When you’re in an intense environment, you need to count on your teammates to be there for you, just as you know you will be there for them. You know how each person works, and what brings out the best in them. It’s an amazing experience to look up during the rush and see everyone in the zone, completely focused and working together.
Outside of the joy of cooking, and seeing people excited over a great dining experience, this may be one of the most satisfying parts of what I do. My team really pushes me to be better everyday, because I simple do not want to let them down.