Week-long training inspires Harvard’s dining team

Oscar Castillo, of Lowell House, sharing his team’s strengths and objectives. Photo Credit: Bethany Versoy/V2Visuals Associates

3 min read

Harvard’s students were still on break, but from Jan. 7-11, class was in session. Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) took advantage of a rare downtime on campus to host 226 hourly employees and 44 managers for a first-of-its-kind week-long training.

“We’re a large department,” noted David Davidson, managing director for HUDS, “and also an extremely busy one, with teammates scattered across campus. We rarely get to come together to work on the soft skills, the interpersonal understanding, connection, creativity, and inspiration that keeps you engaged in your job at a higher level. This week was a special moment.”

The training opened with a video, featuring photos of the fall semester and messages of thanks for the staff from administrators and students.  The group then dug into the theme “Working at Harvard,” starting with a review of the new Campus Services Mission and Guiding Principles. Employees broke into work unit groups to share how they live the mission in their jobs. For the guiding principle “Build partnerships based on trust and transparency,” for example, ideas ranged from learning about a coworker’s heritage or culture to being flexible in your position when others need help. For “Committing to be a learning organization,” employees mentioned highlighting healthy choices for customers or being mindful of the learning pace and preference of coworkers.

Other “Working at Harvard” sessions included a police department overview of campus safety, a review of employee benefits (including a benefits fair), and Title IX training.

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The themes for the rest of the week were “Working at HUDS,” “Skills for Your Job,” and “Teamwork.” These trainings featured sessions such as intensive, in-kitchen training with the Culinary Institute of America (focused on beans and grains) and the Humane Society of the United States (focused on vegan cookery), Diversity and Inclusion training, creating a team resume, understanding sustainability buzzwords, understanding and building credit, and peer stories of career advancement at Harvard.

Planning began in the late summer, led by Susan Simon, the training coordinator. “We’ve never done anything as intensive as this before,” noted Simon. “It was like a professional conference, with program tracks. Everyone contributed ideas and took the lead on various segments.  Our managers were able to share their expertise, work with people they might not normally work with, and bring out conversations and experiences that elevated the whole team.”

Before this year, HUDS traditionally offered voluntary training days in January and March, but participation was nominal. “It was an amazing experience for me,” said Ed Salerno, senior general manager for Eliot and Kirkland House Dining Halls. “I got to interact with my employees in a different way, and likewise they got to interact with each other. Sometimes we get bogged down with solving problems, but for this week, as a team, we got to see the best of each other and I think it will make us more positive as a unit moving forward.”