An executive's place is in the kitchen--at least when it comes to teambuilding. Among the new wave of teambuilding programs based on group cooking experiences are those offered by Santa Rosa, CA-based HMS Travel Group, in conjunction with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and by Downingtown, PA-based Take Charge Consultants, in conjunction with Cooking by the Book, a New York cooking school.

HMS/CIA offers one- and two-day programs that can be used as an incentive reward as well as a teambuilding program. The programs are held at Greystone, the former site of the Christian Brothers Winery in Napa Valley (now the CIA's center for continuing education) and, starting this spring, at the CIA's main campus in Hyde Park, NY.

Not just a cooking class, the program combines corporate training with the culinary arts to improve team performance, group communication, and problem solving, says Larry Martin, HMS president. Preparing a meal parallels the work environment in calling for resource and time management, specific task assignments, and coordination and communication between several parties, he explains. "Food is a great leveler; everyone is comfortable with it."

Take Charge Consultants' vice president Ria Taraschi says that company's day-long culinary workshops "are designed to mirror the kinds of challenges executives face on the job." Participants start the workshop with surveys and exercises to determine what skills they need to work on. They then move on to the kitchen. "The idea is that here they are placed in a new environment where they are given limited time, limited resources, and new tools to create a great result."