Banquets & Potlucks In Your Workplace (And In The 2020 Elections!)

Remember the days of large gatherings of people, and sharing food with one another in an enclosed space? Those days may feel like a long time ago, but banquets and potlucks can help us to understand our workplace, and even our larger society.

A large proportion of Building Bridges Leadership’s consulting and workshops focuses on the idea of authentic community in the workplace. In this, the comparison of banquets and potlucks resonates a lot.

  • At a banquet, a group of organizers prepares the event – laboriously, intensively, and with focus. Banquets can be exquisite, fancy, and with specially-designed pairings of flavors. Over the course of six years while working in alumni relations at Harvard University, I managed an annual banquet for between 250-400 attendees, and the experience for attendees was broadly the same; they bought tickets, came as individuals, couples, or small groups, and had a wonderful time eating, soaking in the atmosphere, and listening to speeches and awards with those same people. In short, they attended as consumers; the primary focus was connection with the university; as a brand-builder, the banquet model is perfect.
  • By contrast, at a potluck, people do not attend as consumers. They attend as contributors. Everyone brings something to share with others; often something that speaks to their unique personality or tastes. There are no specially-designed pairings of flavors at most potlucks; in fact, some foods which are wonderful by themselves may not go well together. But at a potluck, people are free to choose from any of the myriad of dishes that are there. A potluck could rarely be described as exquisite or fancy. Potlucks are more likely to be described as messy. But with everyone bringing their contribution, everyone has a stake in the event. Everyone contributes to making the event a success; fun, worthwhile, engaging. I would hazard a guess that more laughter and richer conversation takes place at potlucks than at banquets. And, in my experience, this is where true community grows.

There is tremendous value in each model; neither is right or wrong, and both have different desired outcomes. And the banquet and potluck models don’t apply only to events; they apply to projects, initiatives, and organizational structures. Even on a wider societal level in a democratic governmental system, do you feel that the important decisions are made by those in power (banquet), or that the important decisions are made by each and every one of us (potluck)?

With these thoughts in mind, how can the idea of banquets and potlucks be useful this week? 

This Week’s Tips:

1) Reflect on the idea of Banquets and Potlucks in your workplace and beyond. Ask yourself how much value does your organization place on top-down decision-making (banquet), and how much value does it place on employee contributions and ideas from all levels (potluck)? Does this align with organizational values? If not, what conversations could you be a part of to make changes?

2) Consider hosting a “Virtual Potluck” for your workplace. Set up a time for others to opt-in and bring a dish that is meaningful to them or says something about their personality or culture, and have people share about their dish over Zoom, before “eating together” from where you are. You may not get to share the food as you would in an in-person potluck, but you can still build authentic community.

3) If you find yourself seeing the political process as a banquet, consider looking at it as a potluck and becoming a contributor. If you live in the US, check that you are registered to vote at and make a plan to vote – either by mail or in person. Then ask yourself how else you might be a contributor in the process of government, in the 2020 elections and beyond?

Try any or all of these this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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