Food has been a binding factor for centuries—from families eating together, to communities gathering for a feast, and colleagues sharing lunch. Food has also brought together employees in Johnson & Johnson’s Mumbai office.

In a unique employee engagement initiative, board members from the consumer healthcare company cooked food for an event and raised funds for charity.

“When I was in Australia for four-and-a-half years, I noticed that they mix a lot of fun with their business. We would often host barbecues, call over colleagues and get people to bond. The idea came from that exercise," says Sushobhan Dasgupta, managing director, Johnson & Johnson Medical India.

Sushobhan Dasgupta and his wife. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Sushobhan Dasgupta and his wife. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

The idea grew into something doable for the board. Sixteen members, including Dasgupta, prepared around 20 dishes that ranged from Bengali to Tamil cuisine. The partners of the leadership team, including Dasgupta’s wife Swarnali, were involved in the process and used WhatsApp to manage the event, held during lunch-hour on a weekday.

In 2014, Dasgupta was part of the organizing committee for the first cooking event—on a smaller scale—to build employee engagement as well as give back to the community. The funds raised went to Operation Smile, an international medical charity that provides free surgeries to children born with a cleft lip, cleft palate or other dental and facial conditions. This year, the event idea was revisited, with funds raised for Prerna, an NGO that works for the education of underprivileged children.

“Back then, we did not involve too many people, so it was more for the fund-raising aspect. But this time around, we invited our health office, our corporate office, etc, to take part in the event. In an hour and a half, we had sold off all the food we cooked," says Dasgupta.

The company used the internal communications team to generate interest among employees. Around 450 of them attended the event. They paid Rs100-500 per dish, raising around Rs1 lakh—an amount that was matched by the company.

A team was created to manage the event. “We spoke about a lot of things—what would be the construct of this programme, how do we do team-building, the kind of menu, how the entire event would be run, was all looked after by us," says Payal Agarwal, director, cardiovascular & speciality solutions, middle India and international business, Johnson & Johnson Medical India.

Many volunteered to handle the stalls and sell coupons. Some children from Prerna were also invited. All but two of the 16 leadership team members were part of the event, making it a good platform for employees to meet the leadership team in a not-so-formal environment.

“Leadership is all about creating a vision and a mission and getting everyone engaged to work towards a common purpose Once the vision was set, everyone was fully engaged, and without any hierarchy," says Dasgupta.

In 2014, the event was restricted to employees in the Mumbai head office. After feedback from the health and sales offices in Mumbai, they decided not only to invite all the employees from Mumbai, but even sent out a note to other cities, urging them to organize similar events. “Communication in any such employee engagement event is of utmost importance. A simple thing like an invite to other offices in Mumbai, made it a talking point in our offices across the country," says Dasgupta.

“The event helped me to connect more with the workplace. There were families involved, my husband and daughter both came. My husband felt this was very innovative and my daughter was all the more excited because we were raising funds, and she was getting to visit me at work, and see us do something very different. It was more than just fund-raising this way. It was also about spending time with each other and with our families," says Agarwal.

Out of the Box is a series that looks at how leaders and employees go beyond regular desk work to build a team.