Right from the start, when we founded Addgene nearly 10 years ago, lunch felt like a family meal. My co-founders actually were my family (Kenneth Fan is my brother and Benjie Chen is my husband), and we were joined by Judy Tsai, a friend from graduate school. The four of us would eat together every day, sharing ideas for the company, but also talking about sports, movies, and just about anything.
As our organization grew, we continued this tradition. We now have over 30 full-time employees, so we created one long lunch table and we eat together Harry Potter-style.The shared lunches create a culture of openness and trust that comes from caring about your colleagues on a personal level, and employees often cite lunch as one of their favorite parts about working at Addgene.
We’re a small non-profit, so we can only provide free food on special occasions. However, employees regularly bring in baked goods and we have a few unique lunchtime traditions that might be fun to incorporate into your own lab.
Iron Chef-style Competitions
Every few months, we’ll have a cooking competition featuring a selected ingredient. Anyone who wants to participate brings in a dish that features that ingredient. We just had a cook-off last week, and the featured ingredient was pumpkin. Everyone gets to vote for their favorites, and trophies are awarded and coveted. I’ve only won 2 trophies over the years, which is either an indication of the stiff competition or says something about my cooking.
This is a creative (and delicious) team building activity that is easy to organize. We’ll dedicate a post to these competitions in the future, and hopefully include some of our favorite winning recipes.
Hack Day Lunches
These days everyone is busy and has a To-Do list long enough that there is no hope of accomplishing it all. How do we encourage people to take a break from their everyday tasks and make time for special projects?
We borrowed an idea from the software folks and started Hack Days. During Hack Days, teams at Addgene will forgo their regular To-Do lists (other than emergency items) and focus on a single project. These projects could be anything from cleaning out the freezers to writing new plasmid protocols for our website. Free lunch is provided for participants during the Hack Days, and we’ve seen great success at accomplishing “we-should-really-make-time-for-that” type projects.
Cross-team “Random Lunches”
With more employees, Addgene has naturally divided into smaller functional teams. Our Executive Director, Joanne Kamens, responded by starting something we call “Random Lunches.” Once or twice a year, she’ll mix up the names of everyone at Addgene, and send random sets of 4 people out to lunch.
I think these random lunches would be a wonderful tradition for university departments to establish, with the goal of fostering better communication between labs. Scientists are often willing to make time for free food, and these lunches would provide a friendly setting for people in different labs to chat informally about their challenges, successes, and expertise. Who knows what could come out of it? Perhaps new ideas or collaborations, or at least a shared sense that we’re not alone in struggling with our western blots.
Thoughts about Sharing
Addgene is all about helping scientists share between labs, and people work hard at Addgene to make plasmid sharing as easy as possible. However, I think it’s just as important to take a break from work to share time with the people around us. It makes the quality of our work better and keeps us smiling even when we’re packing the 400th plasmid that day.
As we head into Thanksgiving weekend in the United States, I look forward to gathering around a large table for a meal with my family. I am thankful for many things, and one is that I get to gather around a large table to eat with my Addgene family every day.
Do you have any traditions that you share with your labmates, be they food related or not? We would love to hear about how you've made your lab feel like your home away from home.