Spaghetti Dinner Team Building

Improvement Insights Blog

Spaghetti Dinner Team Building

Getting quality improvement teams to come together and be productive is key to success. Here’s a story and insight into get results quickly.


“Hi I’m Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma Demystified” and QI Macros [software].

“When I was a young’un, I was in programming and there was a guy named Tom DeMarco who’s very famous, actually, in… the whole software development environment. And so, one of the things that he told us was a story about how he was bringing a new software team [together] and getting them started.

“So what he did was he invited them all over to his house to make a spaghetti dinner but when they got there he admitted that he didn’t have anything to make a spaghetti dinner. He asked them all to go out and get the spaghetti and the sauce and salad and wine and everything else for this thing. So they all self-organized and somebody figured out where we should go, what we should get, how we should do it… we’ll split up the task so everybody gets something, right? And then they went off, got that and made the spaghetti dinner. He said that was one of the best team formation exercises he’d ever done, and I thought, “Wow, that’s kind of cool.”

“Now, one of the things I’ve learned about Quality Improvement is that if I can get the data, I can narrow the focus down and pinpoint where the problem is so that I know exactly who should be on the team, and I bring those people into a room and then tell them the story of how the data pinpoints this thing and that’s why they’re all there, Guess what?

“All of a sudden, they all get on board because they’re starting to solve the problem. It’s not a spaghetti dinner, but they’re solving something important to them. You know, for him, it was getting fed; for us, it might be fixing something, right? Patient falls in a hospital, or it might be some sort of production defects on our metal production line. It does not matter because when you narrow that focus down and get the right people in the room, guess what? They can form quickly into a team and you start to see who’s got the insights and the wisdoms. Sometimes, the quietest person has the best insights but takes them a while to get around to it, but very quickly you can come together and come up with a solution. Does this make sense?

“So, this is this is the magic that can happen that allows a team to form, is if you do the data analysis first, rather than forming a team and then trying to do data analysis because… they’re all in different directions.

“That’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s go out and improve something.”