By Lorelei Mihala – Business reporter – BBC News
If you have ever been forced to race your boss around an assault course, or pass a beach ball to a colleague without using your hands, then you have probably sampled the horror of a company away day.
Whether for team building, forward planning, or to raise money for charity, the thought of such organised days away from the office can make even the bravest shudder.
And it is hard to know what is worse – being forced to do something wacky, or having to sit in the conference room of a dreary hotel for hours on end while your boss drones on about the year ahead.
Thankfully for the sanity of middle managers everywhere, a new type of business away day is now increasingly on the menu – team-building cookery classes.
So instead of having to try to keep up with Tim from accounting on a space hopper, or build a raft with Karen from HR, an office team or department will make a meal together in a professional kitchen.
London-based Food@Work is one firm that organises such away days. Launched in 2002, it faced some tough trading in 2008 during the global financial crisis, but says business is now growing strongly again.
Founder and owner Robinne Collie, 44, says there is not a “usual month” at the company, which charges from £125 per person.
“Some months we do one very large event, like a charity event we ran for 500 participants, or we can run up to six smaller events with 12 to 40 participants.
“I don’t do more than six a month ever. I prefer four at most, because it’s crazy busy.”
A recent customer of Food@Work was UK building products group SIG, which sent along a team to cook a three-course meal of twice-baked cheese souffles, roulade of chicken in a Madeira jus, and apple tartlets with a salted caramel sauce.
“It was a frantic few hours of fun in the kitchen,” says Duncan Longson, SIG’s European financial controller.
“It was great to experience the atmosphere of a professional kitchen, and an excellent team-building exercise.”
Peter Hallard, SIG’s group talent and development director, adds: “The heat of the professional kitchen and the stress of making a souffle stretched even the most seasoned of senior executives.”
Another business that offers team-building cookery classes for corporate clients is Waffle Workshop, which is based in Brussels.
Founded in 2015 by Titch Fauconnier, the 29-year-old was originally targeting the tourism market, but decided to add corporate events after visitor numbers to the Belgian capital fell sharply last year following the bomb attack at the city’s airport.
Waffle Workshop now organises two or three two-hour team building events per month, with up to 29 participants taking part each time, at a cost of 28 euros per person ($30; £24).
Mr Fauconnier says that attendees “discover another side of the people they work with”.
At the beginning he says he worried that those attending the corporate events would be reluctant to participate because it wasn’t their choice to be there, but he says that his fears were soon proved to be wrong.
“After hosting many of these team-building events I have never experienced a lack of motivation from participants. They were always happy to do something out of the office,” says Mr Fauconnier.
In France, L’Atelier des Sens is one of the largest providers of cookery classes for corporate clients. Such events now make up 60% of its annual turnover of 2.5m euros.
The business holds up to 150 team-building classes each month, with groups of typically 20 people cooking three-course meals at three venues in Paris, and one in Lyon. It uses 50 professional chefs to lead the events.
Founder and owner Natacha Burtinovic, 42, says what is particularly interesting is the fact that “sometimes the hierarchy that exists at work does not exist in our kitchens”.
Back at Food@Work, which now uses up to 26 professional chefs to run the classes, Ms Collie says that running the events for 15 years has turned her into a keen kitchen-based psychologist.
She says: “Naturally organised people keep a clean workbench, and are clear on what they are doing, the task to follow.
“Process orientated people read recipes… while some people are so motivated by results and getting the job done quickly that they fail to get it done right.
“We have seen it all – shock, horror, fear, delight, some people wanting to run away, some wanting to get stuck in immediately.”
But what do the experts think? Lisa Lyons, a human resources boss at consultancy group Mercer, says that like any team-building event, cookery classes “have the potential to accelerate the overall performance of the team”.
However, Ms Lyons cautions that team-building events should be “integrated as part of a longer-term approach to developing the team”.
In other words, a company cannot hold a one-off cooking day – or visit an assault course – and then expect to have a harmonious and successful workplace forever after.