The Great British Bake Off Is a Masterclass in Creating Office Culture

I’m a massive fan of the Great British Bake Off and have come to the conclusion it is a masterclass in office culture. My love for baking started when I was young. My Grandma owned a cake and candy business, mostly catering to weddings, and I was at her side, pretend baking early in the morning. To me, baking is therapeutic, creative, reduces stress, and you have something delicious to enjoy for several days. However, as I watched episode after episode, and season after season, I kept wondering why I enjoyed it so much. It soon dawned on me that I was a fan for reasons that went well beyond seeing banking technique, or the thrill of competition. What The Great British Bake Off does well is a masterclass in how to build a positive and inclusive office culture.

It is ironic that when I lived in Scotland, and the show would air on TV, it didn’t interest me. Cooking competitions never interested me because they seemed cutthroat, at least in the US. Even the commercials induced stress and anxiety. I’m not sure what made me click on the Great British Bake Off while browsing Netflix one night, but I’m glad I did. Perhaps it was nostalgia to remember all the sweet treats I used to enjoy in Scotland. Maybe it was a longing to hear the accent or the immense diversity of cultures. Whatever the reason, as I progressed through the seasons, I was delighted to find what would become a favorite show of mine.

First and foremost, the show is a competition and gets intense at times. As a season progresses, you find yourself sitting on the edge of the couch, almost biting your nails. If someone’s bake falls on the floor or collapses, or they run out of time to finish it, you realize you’re holding your breath to see what will happen next. You find yourself rooting for all the contestants because you get to know each of them. Their demeanor, attitude, and overall gratefulness to be there are contagious. Even though it is competition, there are more smiles than expressions of anger. You see positive encouragement rather than stirring up frustration by introducing twits designed to make people fail. Additionally, I don’t recall any outbursts of rage when a bake failed. Even more, the contestants are competing more with themselves than with each other.

Secondly, the show is truly a piece of art in motion. You can’t help but develop an appreciation for the artistry of baking. The bakers reproduce long and sometimes painful, methods to get that perfect bake. Before they begin a challenge, the contestants create illustrations that show their interpretation of the bake while explaining the inspiration that helped them develop it. Each contestant shows their colorful diagram and gives a detailed plan for how they will execute the challenge. Sometimes the judges are in awe, and other times, skeptical that it will work. There have been times when they’ve painfully resisted the urge to coach the contestant away from their idea. Holding all of this together is a soft, cheerful piano soundtrack that speeds up as the clock draws near.

Office Culture Lessons from The Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off inspires me to replicate the culture and norms that exist on the show in the office. Seeing such a diverse cast treating each other with dignity, respect, and genuine kindness is inspiring. It presents us with a world in which we wished we lived. The Great British Bake Off taught me that to have a positive and inclusive office culture, leaders need to make sure these things are in place.

1) Everyone is set up for success

First and foremost, contestants on The Great British Bake Off are set up for success. You won’t find twits and turns designed to throw the bakers off. There are enough ingredients to go around for everyone to use. Finally, the challenges aren’t a surprise. The judges pass out challenges weeks before, so there is plenty of time to practice before being in front of the camera. That is, except for the technical challenge. In many cases, the contestants have never heard or seen the bake, and the directions are vague. However, they draw upon their experience and are pretty successful in achieving the desired outcome. Ensuring everyone is set up for success is fundamental in creating a positive office culture.

  • Provide employees with the tools and resources to do their job
  • Remove gotcha situations
  • Be very clear on expectations
  • Encourage employees to leverage their past experience

2) Effort and patterns determine your advancement

At the end of each episode of The Great British Bake Off, someone has to leave the tent, and someone is named Star Baker. Sometimes, even when they fail, they can win. There have been times when a contestant’s bake didn’t quite measure up, but they still won Star Baker or weren’t sent home. The judges are aware of patterns and effort, and that impacts their decisions. Each episode builds on another, and they frequently talk about past successes, failures, or how far someone has come when discussing who will win Star Baker and who will leave the tent. Recognizing employee patterns and effort helps create a positive office culture.

  • Keep patterns of behavior in mind when managing performance
  • Don’t use recentisms when evaluating employee performance
  • Recognize that employees change and improve but sometimes you have to look beyond the surface
  • Effort matters and failure is a sign of trying

3) Compassion for people and a healthy blend of positive and critical feedback

The Great British Bake Off has two judges and two hosts. Each has an important role to play. The judges bring their deep experience in baking and provide feedback, and sometimes, guidance to the contestants. At the end of each challenge, they sample the goods while describing why they are right, or why they fall short. Each contestant receives individualized feedback on what they could have done differently. The hosts help keep the morale up by using humor or lending a hand as the clock runs out.

As the season goes on, the judges, hosts, and contestants openly express sadness when people leave the tent. In fact, many tears have been shed when saying good-bye to someone. All of this combined is a demonstration of caring for people. From the judges down to the contestants, it is clear that everyone matters and there is a desire for everyone to succeed. The contestants easily accept the feedback. Even more, regardless of the feedback being good or critical, there is always a thank you after receiving it. Humility is almost always on display. Having genuine compassion for people and healthy humility will create an inclusive office culture.

  • Treat each employee as an individual
  • Provide meaningful feedback that encourages and helps employees improve
  • Use humor to keep morale up
  • Roll-up your sleeves to provide help as needed
  • Genuinely demonstrate compassion for people

4) Teamwork happens naturally

The Great British Bake Off is a contest and make no mistake each contestant wants to win. Unlike food contests in the United States, The Great British Bake Off is anything but cutthroat. The contestants genuinely care for one another. Over the season, you get to watch real relationships form. The Great British Bake Off takes teamwork to a whole new level. When someone’s bake is failing, other contestants quickly jump in to help save it. These guys are in direct competition with one another and yet actively want each other to be successful. So much so that they will jeopardize their own chance to win to help a fellow baker. There are frequent interviews where the contestants talk about their newfound friendships, including video footage of them hanging out long after the show has ended. Creating an inclusive office culture requires deep relationships that strengthen the team.

  • Make it clear everyone is on the same team to encourage teamwork
  • Create psychological safety
  • Create an environment that promotes the development of deep relationships
  • Reward the right behaviors

5) The purpose far exceeds the prize

On the surface, the reward for winning The Great British Bake Off is pretty low. The winning contestant receives the title of Winner and an engraved cake stand and flowers. However, throughout the season, it becomes clear that the contestants aren’t in it for the prize. They enter the contest to prove something to themselves. The bakers have a desire to grow and enhance their skills. Their drive and tenacity to overcome the limitations they’ve placed on themselves is an inspiration. These intangibles are the real prize and are the fuel that keeps them going up to the last second on the clock. More than that, they demonstrate exceptional character by helping fellow bakers in need. Having a sense of purpose is the fuel that creates a sustainable office culture.

  • Understand each employee's unique motivators
  • Focus on why rather than what and how
  • Encourage employees to pursue passions outside of work
  • Offer opportunities to make a social impact
  • Encourage them to share what they are working on with the rest of the company

The Great British Bake Off is a masterclass in how to build a positive and inclusive office culture. The hosts and judges model behaviors that anyone in a leadership role would benefit from adopting. They way they execute the contest, offer feedback, provide coaching along the way, and manage the contestants are differentiators that will help your business succeed. Most importantly, they show they care.

If you haven’t watched The Great British Bake Off I highly recommend it. Yes, the calming music combined with the British accent is soothing and promotes a relaxed feeling. Yes, you will see some great bakes made by great people. Above all, watching The Great British Bake Off is a masterclass that will inspire you to replicate the culture and norms that exist on the show in your office.

Originally published at https://www.jasoncortel.com on June 1, 2020.

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Jason Cortel

Jason Cortel

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Changing the world by developing people professionally. Author who blogs about leadership, career advice, and coaching. #WhyYouNow