Building a great team is like cooking perfect rice

Building a great team is like cooking perfect rice

Chia-Li Chien | Nov. 27, 2013

For best results, just let the rice cooker do its work

In a recent article, we discussed the Americas Cup and how the Oracle team applied energy, decreased resistance and put together the right crew in order to take home the cup. (

As I got into that discussion, I realized I should expand on what it takes to create a team that can help you reach the finish and win. And that’s when I thought about one of my favorite kitchen tools, the rice cooker.

While the Oracle team was made up of the top people with their expertise from all over the world, most business owners simply don’t have access to that type of talent. And even if you do, you might not be able to afford it or be able to keep them on your team for very long due to high demand.

That means that you must:

  • Start with the best talent you can afford and attract
  • Begin to invest in making them what you need them to be from day one
  • Give them the platform to reach their career goals and objectives within your company

When I make rice, I start with the best rice I can find for the purpose I need it for. Sticky rice for some recipes, basmati rice for others. But I make sure I have the right rice for the desired end results.

Choose carefully, then rinse

I worked with a client recently who had no official Project Manager, but I felt they could really benefit from someone in that position. I recommended we begin project management training with twenty or so people already in the company.

I knew that out of those twenty, only two or three people would be really interested and only one person would emerge as someone both interested and capable of taking on the job. But everyone would benefit from understanding the fundamentals of project management and how a Project Manager could benefit what they do.

Training is imperative to creating a cohesive team that is productive and happy.

Knowing this would require that I adjust the expectations of leadership, that “not everyone will become an expert after every training session, “ I also needed leadership to understand they would be expected to demonstrate the performance expected from the team, even in training.

Notice the word is demonstrate—not admonish, not explain, not just tell someone how you want it done. Demonstrate the performance you expect from others in your company.

When you cook rice in the rice cooker, you must go through the process of rinsing your rice. Sometimes this takes two or three cycles of rinsing and draining before the water is clear and the rice is ready to be cooked. Think of training as rinsing the rice, and making sure it is prepared to become what you want and need it to be.

Give them a chance to do their work.

Approach your team knowing that everyone wants to do the best job he or she can. It’s up to you to give them a platform to succeed.

When I use my rice cooker, after rinsing the rice, I add the cooking water and put on the lid and let the cooker do its work. If I open the lid during the cooking process, I release the pressure and prolong the entire process. And, I get a steam burn on my hand.

If you know you have properly trained your team through—

• Onboarding
• Continuing ed
• Seminars
• Conferences
• In-house sessions
• Webinars
• Online training

—have the confidence that you have given your people what they need to let them get the job done, in their own timing and process of sifting through priorities.

Are there deadlines they have to make? Yes. Are other people depending on them to hold up their end of the project? Yes. Trust them and your selection of them to do the job assigned. Constantly lifting the lid to check on them can sometimes create frustration, prolong the project and result in a less-than-perfect end product.

Once in the rice cooker, I know that the rice will be cooking at the perfect temperature if I don’t open the lid. So, I resist temptation and let the cooker do its work.

When it’s done, let it rest, then open the lid and check on it.

Most rice cookers bubble along happily while the rice is cooking, then shut off automatically when the rice is done. Then, comes the hard part—letting it rest without opening the lid.

Sure, you can make sure the cooker has turned off and if the lid is clear, look at the rice waiting there. However, most instructions say to allow ten minutes to rest. It needs that time to finish the cooking process.

You might think that the project is or should be done, but exercise patience and allow your team to make finishing touches. A writer might hope for the chance to let a communication step away for a while and then come back for a last check for edits after the chance to polish the communication (while still meeting the deadline, of course). A salesperson might want to let the sale “rest” and have time to make sure everything is delivered on time before declaring the deal closed and turning in the report.

After the “rest,” it’s imperative you come in to open the lid. The rice is done and you must open up the cooker or else you risk a dried out product, past its perfection.

Likewise, you must circle back with your people to congratulate, motivate and help them move on to the next assignment. You must check on line items such as expenses and profit and loss of the project. Meet with them to discuss high and low points and gather bottom line results and file reports.

Keep everything in good working order

Of course, cooking rice doesn’t end with the cooking. The cooker must be washed, dried and prepared for the next time.

How are you helping your team be prepared for the next time? Or the first time?


  • Rinse the rice and train your people
  • Let the rice cook and let your people do their work
  • Let the rice rest and check on your people
  • Wash and dry the cooker and help your people be prepared for the next project

When your company recognizes a person’s career goals and gives that person the training, preparation, time, and platform to reach those goals within the company, it’s a win-win situation. And, it’s a repeatable way for you to get perfect rice every time.

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