The Rise & Fall of the Kiwi Morning Tea

I remember my first impressions of theNew Zealand business world when I arrived from England in 1982, just after the Springbok Tour.
As an auditor I visited many New Zealand companies and experienced firsthand the daily procession to morning tea.
Looking back, I recall some interesting characteristics of this ritual: Older staff had been around long enough to know “just about everything” and were treated as mentors; staff morale was high, with real team spirit. Mondays were full of weekend stories; and everybody seemed to know what was going on.
I also remember later, as management consultant, how pleased I was to see this inefficient process disappear in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Some may think that the ’80s have lot to answer for, others may say that work today has lost lot of the fun and communication. You may think that, but as Urquhart would say “I can not possibly comment”.
I wish to focus on the issue of the morning tea which, strange as it appeared to me then, seems so sensible now.
Look at the current situation.
?Everyone breaks at different times.
? You never know if someone is free to cover that brief point you want clarification on.
? Your email inbox is overflowing, much of which is of no consequence.
? There are many meetings covering points that the morning tea would have dealt with.
? Few people have rounded knowledge of the business.
? Worst of all, where is the sense of perspective? How many of us actually work in jobs which are life and death, such as surgeons?
The coffee-house culture has gone some way to repair the damage done, provided there is good coffee house nearby. However, as small groups go for their coffee at different times you do not know where ?Pat Carruthers’ will be.
One participant, in our better practices studies, converted large meeting room to “Meet & Eat Room” for social events, morning and afternoon teas, lunches.
The executive management team were also encouraged to use these facilities and get to know their staff and other members of the organisation in less formal situation to discuss anything (current work issues, social issues and events etc). Not surprisingly this change led to reduction in both staff turnover and grievances, and greater team spirit.
Remember executive team lunches? Interestingly, during the ’80s this valuable communication tool disappeared.
While it was no doubt perk, you have to remember lot of communication went on – all of which has now been replaced by an hour’s meeting. At least you can escape in some culinary delight when ?Pat Carruthers’ is paddling his boat down the wrong canal.

Fun at work
Are we so much more efficient now? Are we having more enjoyment at work? I do not think so.
Just walk around tomorrow and look at the frowns permanently locked on the foreheads of us all. Is this the inheritance we are to give the next generation of work colleagues?
Why don’t we show some leadership and bring back, morning and afternoon teas and regular executive luncheons – even for six-month trial.
However, be warned, these initiatives will need promotion and support from senior management. If the senior team consider themselves too busy to attend it will probably be because of the number of meetings they have. All they need to do is break this “catch 22”.
If morning tea does not appeal how about monthly breakfast for all staff at site.
We know of private-sector organisation that holds monthly breakfasts for over 100 of the staff on-site (McDonald’s delivers the breakfast) and each department presents on topic.
There are awards where there is much banter, and departments are mixed among the tables. Everybody attends from the CEO down.

David Parmenter is managing director of Waymark Solutions in Wellington. Waymark does not necessarily agree with the comments expressed in this article. Email:[email protected] with your morning tea stories as I would like to write follow-up article.

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