Building Teams One Burger At A Time

Apr 26, 2018 1 Min Read

Observations from the myBurgerLab kitchen

The patties are sizzling on the griddle, fries and pieces of chicken are browning nicely in the fryer, burger buns are warming up in the toaster. Once all of that is done, what’s left to do is to assemble the burgers. Easy, right?

Just as the team relaxes a little, a new order comes in, followed by another. The coordinator starts yelling out instructions, and everyone springs back into action. Another two orders come in.

The heat from the fryer is starting to get to you. You’re all sweaty and stressed out, straining to hear the timer’s faint beeps over the din of the kitchen.

It’s an unfamiliar environment, and you’re trying to work fast under the pressure. You finally deliver the last batch of fries to the assembly line when someone comments: “Is that all? There isn’t enough for three burgers.”

Uh-oh. You insist that the order was for two servings only, but two people insist otherwise. You argue back and forth, and the tension in the kitchen is beginning to build…

Burgernomics participant turning around to look at someone outside the kitchen.

“Three? But you said two!”

Mud vs. burgers

I don’t know about you, but when I hear ‘team building’, I think of a group of people tackling an obstacle course together in a remote location.

We tend to associate team building with outdoor activities – just do a quick Google search and you’ll get a long list of adventure campsites and nature retreats.

But what if squelching along muddy trails isn’t your thing?

Well, perhaps you could get your hands dirty in the kitchen of a burger joint instead.

Leaderonomics recently had the opportunity to participate in a team building exercise conducted in the myBurgerLab kitchen, and here the participants discovered that they might have bitten off more than they could chew!

The beginning of Burgernomics

It can be overwhelming for individuals who haven’t had any experience in the food and beverage (F&B) industry, and not everyone can handle the (literal) heat.

So why did myBurgerLab open up their kitchen doors for us to run the burger production line?

Chin Ren Yi, the co-founder of myBurgerLab, shares: “myBurgerLab is a platform for young people to learn, grow, and develop their soft skills before venturing out into the world, which is very similar to what Leaderonomics does as an organisation. That’s why I agreed to it when the idea for Burgernomics* was brought up.”

Just keep flipping

Your parents may have said it like it’s a bad thing to get you to study harder when you were still in school, but there’s really so much to gain from “just flipping burgers”.

Hands assembling burgers.

Each burger is built with lots of love and care.

So much goes on behind the scenes after we place our orders at a restaurant, and many of us underestimate the skills needed to prepare the food that is served to us, the ever-fussy customers.

Churning out orders swiftly is doable, but being quick without compromising on presentation, taste, and overall quality requires a dedicated team who work well together.

“People who don’t have a background in the F&B industry tend to think, ‘What’s so hard about making a burger?’ but then they gain an appreciation for how difficult it is after trying it out,” notes Ren Yi.

Making burgers = Honing soft skills?

Some of the soft skills that organisations look for in their employees are the very same competencies that the myBurgerLab team (affectionately known as geeks) has acquired, and continue to hone every day.

1. Communication

“Working in the kitchen teaches people to communicate properly, because clear communication is essential for things to run smoothly. A lot of food wastage will occur if you don’t communicate well, and this adds to our operational costs,” says Ren Yi.

Similarly, poor flow of information in an organisation will lead to communication breakdowns, which will affect the quality of the products and services delivered to clients.

By then, the damage has been done to your brand, and that will cost your organisation money.

Ren Yi adds, “When you’re communicating with customers (outside of the kitchen), you need to be patient and understanding, as each customer has different needs.”

Being polite to your customers sounds like a no-brainer, but many people don’t realise that we tend to communicate differently when we’re stressed out, like when you’re in the midst of a busy three-hour kitchen shift.

This is when good communication skills become even more crucial, as you don’t want to unintentionally be curt with your colleagues or worse, be rude and offend a client.

In situations like these, it’s necessary to be self-aware, and make a conscious effort to send the right message across.

2. Empathy

“Why is she taking forever to send me the documents? She’s holding up my work!”

We’ve all been guilty of this at some point, so what if we tried putting ourselves in our colleagues’ shoes?

To help everyone understand the daily operations of the business, the myBurgerLab geeks work in various roles on a rotational basis.

For this reason, Khoo Hsien Piao, Leaderonomics’ team building leader and coordinator for this exercise, made our kitchen crew switch stations halfway through the shift.

He explains: “If you’re part of the assembly line and are suddenly told to coordinate the entire process, you’ll quickly realise that it really isn’t as easy as it seems. And you’ll be less likely to be so critical in the future.”

Man talking, next to board with sticky notes.

Khoo (right) debriefing the participants after the session.

All it takes is a little bit of empathy to make you a better communicator. Once you understand your colleague’s situation, you’ll probably be more patient with her the next time she’s late in delivering materials to you – as long as it doesn’t happen all the time, of course.

READ: Creating Burger Chemistry In The Lab

3. Handling team dynamics

In reality, hungry customers aren’t interested to know whose fault it is that their food is delayed, so should the kitchen crew waste time arguing about who is right? Or should they get moving to prepare the ‘missing’ order?

Mix-ups happen all the time in the kitchen, and in organisations, too. How well the situation is handled depends heavily on the team’s ability to be flexible and maintain a positive attitude despite the pressure.

Does the blame game start when a crisis occurs, or does everyone band together to carry out damage control? How the team responds to a situation like this is a fairly good indication of the team’s dynamics and the organisation’s culture.

At myBurgerLab, the culture emphasises learning. Ren Yi says, “It’s okay for them (his staff) to make mistakes, as long as they learn from them. That is what’s important.”

READ: There Is More To myBurgerLab Than Just Serving You Great Burgers

In conclusion

One Burgernomics participant captured the essence of it when he said,

“It shed a light on a lot of things I took for granted. The whole experience created a lot of points for me to reflect on – as an individual and as a team member – and has forced me to re-evaluate my behaviour both in the kitchen and in the office.”

How do you think members of your organisation will fare in the myBurgerLab kitchen? Can they take the heat, or will chaos ensue?
* Burgernomics is a new Leaderonomics team building simulation in partnership with myBurgerLab. It utilises the burger-making process to highlight the importance of good communication and empathy, and helps reveal team dynamics through participants’ interactions in the kitchen. If you would like to learn more about Burgernomics and how you can book a session (and cook up a storm!) for your organisation, send us an email at


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Christie was previously the deputy editor at Leaderonomics. She prefers to convey her thoughts through the written word and is a stickler for consistency. One of her favourite phrases is “It’s not that far; we can walk there!”

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