The Soup Method For Building Teams

Cooking inspires my appreciation for developing people and businesses. It is a beautiful example of transforming finite ingredients into endless possibilities that create memorable experiences. Even the most basic techniques can provide several lifetimes of sustenance and are open to creative interpretation.

Here is a story I found that  correlates well with building teams

In a land and time far away…

A couple of travelers from a foreign land came across a village and asked residents for a simple meal and a place to stay for the evening, but got rejected every time. As the sun set, the travelers built a small campfire in the square and placed a pot of water with a few stones to cook. 

One by one, villagers approached and asked about the contents. The travelers answered each villager the same way, “Traditional stone soup from our homeland. It is amazing! We are happy to share a bowl with you, if you make a contribution – even if it is merely some scraps of onion, bits of carrots, or ends of potatoes.”

As the evening went on, more and more villagers were intrigued and added something to the pot until one of the travelers decided it was ready, and began sharing with all who contributed. A brilliant meal was enjoyed and the travelers were asked to visit the village on their return.

The beauty of the soup analogy is that each ingredient remains itself – potatoes are still potatoes – yet they also absorb aspects of everything else as they blend and meld together. Here are a couple of ways you can use this recipe to build your teams.

Step 1: Take complete inventory.

We are rarely given absolutely ideal circumstances when putting together our teams. Accept the situation as it is right now and start working with what you have to make it better. Look at everything and everyone with the perspective that they can somehow add to the solution.

Your minuscule budget, rapid deadline, high expectations, and any other challenge are merely design constraints that we must work through. Used properly, pressure, creativity, passion, and purpose are often precisely what is needed to complete the goal. Throw out assumptions and preconceived notions as they only make experiences bitter.

Explore the hidden talents among co-workers; a receptionist with art skills; a clerical intern with a knack for building and construction; the programmer who used to be a teacher; and the new guy in sales with a photography hobby. These under-utilized skills build personal connections and are often vast resources waiting to be tapped.

Seek opportunities to create intrigue and interest. A curious buzz or well-managed rumor are ways to get the ‘informal, yet established’ systems working in your favor.

Step 2: Provide a safe place to collaborate.

Creative ideas, whims, suggestions, skills, and passions (especially ones we keep to ourselves) are often attached to very delicate emotions. Typical business meetings are filled with power plays, role expectations, and egos that often prevent people from speaking up and offering new ideas.

Find ways people can invest almost imperceptible amounts. To reduce the ‘threshold of contribution’; establish an environment free of judgment, authority, status, position, and where everyone is of equal importance. It often helps to host meetings in a somewhat unconventional place or time – an outdoor courtyard, off-site meeting room, at 10:00pm, in someone’s home, etc.

In highly effective teams; solutions and decisions are never one-dimensional. They are the result of carefully analyzing, discussing, arguing, and enhancing the contributions by everyone. Strength comes from everyone’s voice coming together, not from one voice that silences others.

Step 3: Be open to the various contributions of others.

One of the biggest reasons people leave jobs/employers is because they feel they are not heard, valued, or appreciated. Whatever they give, be grateful, accept the gift, and find some way to make it useful.

It may look like scraps, leftovers and broken pieces; but these are far better than nothing at all. Accept everything but blame and excuses. Perfectionists can take a lesson from artists and ‘hackers’ who simply create solutions out of what is available. Follow-up versions are where we move towards perfection and scale.

People are full of passions, ideas, and experiences – these benefits may be hidden behind some defense mechanisms. Leadership is about finding these qualities and learning how to work with them to produce great results. In food as well as teams, superstars are only made by those who lift them on their shoulders.

You likely have to bear through some tears as you chop an onion; but when cooked, those same chemicals that make us cry are converted into complex sweetness that can’t be replaced.

Step 4: Share it with others. 

Openly share the possibilities, responsibilities, resources, gains, glory, challenges, and ALL information. Make sure everyone understands the value of their contribution. Teams are built on trust, and transparency is one of the easiest ways to establish a strong foundation.

Leadership is one of the most important things to share with a team. It is an opportunity for people to observe and actively develop their own skills. This simple gesture can positively change their entire career while cementing your leadership skills as well.

Our traveling friends were hungry and wanted a meal for themselves. In offering to share with all who contributed, they were able to accomplish much more. Some say this is how we got the ‘Pot Luck’ style of dining/catering. Everyone brings something and leaves with plenty.

Like other timeless recipes, its simplicity can be misleading. Though the basic recipe might be followed each time, there will always be variety in the end result.


I invite you to connect with me or start a conversation about how to build better teams. We can arrange workshop around a cooking demo/meal.

About David Frick
David brings a holistic approach to business growth that unites advertising, marketing, sales with aspects of leadership and operations. As the founder of SuccessVentures, he is driven to help build people, build value, and build business