Tandoori teamwork

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Bowl of curryIf you want to see real teamwork in action, try your local Tandoori restaurant, says Simon Hollington. Every night, the team at your local curry house will be faced with a variety of challenges and business leaders can learn much from how they are handled, he says.

Forget Manchester United or Chelsea, if you want to see real teamwork in action every day, try your local Tandoori restaurant. Every night, the team there will be faced with a variety of different customer groups. Each presents a different challenge to the team and they often face them simultaneously. My 'local' demonstrates why business leaders and managers can learn as much, if not more, from their local Tandoori than from the highly paid stars of Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge!

"Ensure that everyone recognises that – no matter where they are in the organisation – they are all part of the customer service team."

My local - the Rajpoot restaurant in Taunton - has recently moved location and has now almost doubled in size. In the previous location a table was almost always available. The new, larger location is virtually completely full every Friday and Saturday night and unless you book you are unlikely to get in. The Rajpoot's success revolves around four elements: the product, which is varied and wide ranging; customer service, which is outstanding; leadership, which is vested in all the team; and finally, teamwork.

There are seven other Indian restaurants in Taunton so the Rajpoot has to compete with all the others, and yet it draws people geographically from all around Taunton and not just from their local vicinity. Their unique selling point (USP) is their customer service. It is that more than anything else that draws me back there rather than trying out the other restaurants. So lesson number one – identify and major on your USP.

When it comes to customer service, the Rajpoot deals daily with a wide variety of customers. When I was there recently, there was a group of 13, a group of six ladies on a girls' night out, a table of two couples, one with two young men, an elderly couple enjoying a quiet meal together and various other tables as well. Each required a different approach by the waiters. The service is always friendly, attentive but unobtrusive, and efficient, and each group is made to feel special. The flexibility of approach is such that it feels as though the staff have made a particular effort just for you. Customers are not simply a commodity to be treated all the same. If you can get a relationship with all of them based on what they need, then that will keep them coming back to you even in the face of competition because bespoke interactions will bind them in.

The front of house manager is clearly the leader in terms of setting the tone for the restaurant. Consistently cheerful, he also rolls up his sleeves and clears tables, as do the others. However, he's not the only leader.

Proactive approach

Everyone takes responsibility for ensuring that customers have an outstanding experience. When there is a momentary respite, the waiters cruise the floor looking for work to be done, glasses and plates to be cleared, or customers who want another drink or their bill. That proactive approach where all look to see what they can do to help each other is a key element in the diners' experience. There is, in a nutshell, significant customer and task awareness amongst all the staff and they all work together to ensure that the service is superb. How many business managers would be able to say that of their staff?

"Get your teams working together. Ensure that there are no barriers between them and that they all recognise that what one does has an impact on the others – positively or negatively."

The teamwork is superb. There are of course many smaller teams amongst the staff but they can be simplified into two: front of house and the kitchen staff. In the Rajpoot the kitchen is a masterly demonstration of production teamwork. Orders come in and the team burst into life in a way that Henry Ford would be proud of. There are a number of key aspects to that teamwork - lean thinking has certainly reached the Rajpoot, and is practiced to a high level and orders are taken, written and delivered quickly and efficiently so there's good communication between front of house and the backroom engine.

When Gordon Ramsay goes into failing restaurants, the front of house and kitchen staff are often poles apart. In the Rajpoot, the two are in harmony - each supporting the other. One of the owners alternates between the kitchen and front of house according to where resources are needed. This is a lesson for us all – do we have the resources positioned such that we can cope with different demands or are we compartmentalised? How often have you seen one team or department under significant pressure, and all that happens is that they get blamed by others for slowing up the system?

So what can other businesses learn from the Rajpoot? Firstly, get your product and production system right and ensure they are right every time. Secondly, ensure that everyone recognises that – no matter where they are in the organisation – they are all part of the customer service team. Thirdly, ensure that leadership is vested in everyone and that they all have a responsibility for decision making. But finally, get your teams working together. Ensure that there are no barriers between them and that they all recognise that what one does has an impact on the others – positively or negatively. Want to see it all in action? Then look at the examples all around you. It's a great deal cheaper than Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge - and you get a meal as well!

Simon Hollington, is the executive chairman of Values Based Leadership, which works with organisations to improve business performance through bespoke leadership development, team effectiveness and cultural change programmes and through executive coaching. For more information go to: www.valuesbasedleadership.co.uk

To read Simon's last feature 'Junior Managers: Stuck in the middle?' click here.

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