A Recipe for Disaster? (Seven 12-year-olds bake a cake)

In what might have been a recipe for disaster, my daughter and six of her friends (yes, that’s seven pre-teens) baked a cake the other day. I set them the task of baking and decorating the cake (which they were all keen to do) and then tidy the kitchen (which they were noticeably LESS keen to do) and then walked away and left them to it … only to sneak back to see what they were up to from time to time.

Somewhat predictably, the first few minutes descended into chaos – everybody wanted to mix, so the kitchen was full of girls waving spoons in the air and shouting.

Somehow, two of them took the lead and appointed tasks: someone had to get the ingredients, another had to weigh them out, one of them started to mix the ingredients and then passed it on to someone else, and so on. Astonishingly, they were soon working like a well-oiled machine.

Personal agendas came to the fore when it came to the decoration. Someone grabbed the the jelly diamonds, someone else wanted the chocolate curls; others were worried that they’d be left with nothing, and snatched at whatever was left on the table.

Initial ideas of each decorating their own slice quickly gave way to a consensus about a uniform pattern where each girl had one type of decorating sweet, and put it in a pattern on the cake ensuring that, more or less, there would be the same amount of decoration on each slice.

By the time they’d finished, the cake genuinely looked – and tasted – as though one person had baked and decorated it.

The point?

Leaders will emerge in self-managed teams. Clear, agreed goals (we all want a nice cake with loads of sweets on it) fell into place. Roles were shared out, loosely according to who wanted to do what. Everyone took a turn – there were no observers, and no one felt left out.

Did it make a difference that they were all friends? Yes of course it did … but bear in mind that they are 11 or 12 years old, and one of them eating a spoonful of mixture or taking one sweet too many could have caused a major hissy fit amongst the rest.

Astonishingly, that bunch of kids provided a working model of both Bruce Tuckman’s stages of team development, and of the GRPI model (structured establishment of goals, roles, processes, interpersonal relationships.)

And at the end, the proof really WAS in the pudding – the cake was delicious…and the kitchen was tidy(ish).

How many workplace teams can claim such success?!

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