The Cohen-Miller Report: Team Building

Team Building

by Emily Cohen

Many in-house creative teams struggle with getting their entire team to work together as a cohesive unit, working toward the same goals and expectations. Usually, there is always one weak team member who impacts the effectiveness and/or reputation of the entire team. In other cases, some well-oiled teams that work well together may have a divisive relationship with their clients or business partners. The overall impact is a lack of a unified corporate team-building strategy and poor customer service. I am always interested in best-in-class strategies focused on team building that can inspire our clients and help them move their team to the next level.

I was therefore excited to read an article in NY Times Sunday Business on the management strategies of Pret A Manger. The turnover rate in the fast-food industry, composed largely of low-paid transient workers, is normally 300 – 400 percent. Yet, this British fast food chain has an impressive industry-low turnover rate of 60%.

Pret A Manager has several approaches to building and motivating teams that have contributed to this low turnover rate.  The following outline just a few of those strategies that resonated with me — all of which can be modified to work within a more corporate environment:

Strategy 1 – Gaining team-wide support for new hire
New hires are sent to Pret A Manager shop for a six-hour day, and then the employees there vote to keep them or not.  Including employees in the hiring process and, if possible, immersing the hire in a full-day “test”, ensures a tighter cultural fit. Thus the team, as whole, supports the hiring decision and the hire understands that the culture prioritizes team unity.

Strategy 2 – Skin in the game
Pret A Manager awards bonuses based on the performance of the entire team, not individuals. As a result, employees understand that a bad hire will impact their individual financial compensation. Consequently, employees are often more motivated to help the weaker member(s) of their team to improve their performance through internal mentorship and training. Additionally, each individual sees the direct impact they have on others – reinforcing the idea of a team.

Strategy 3 – Mystery shopper
Mystery shoppers are sent to Pret A Manager stores to give employee specific critiques; outstanding scores are rewarded with a small but impactful financial bonus. In our world, employees can be similarly rewarded for great customer service with a bonus or comparable rewards such as comp time or lunch with an important executive.

Strategy 4 – Employees rewarding peers
This is my all time favorite strategy.  When Pret A Manager employees are promoted or pass training milestones they receive a financial voucher.  However, instead of keeping the reward, the employee must give the money to colleagues that have helped them along the way. I love this as it truly reinforces the idea behind teamwork by proving that no individual can be truly successfully without the support of the greater team.

Pret A Manager’s approach is yet another example of why it is critical to look beyond our own isolated world so that we can learn and grow as an industry. I often look to other companies and industries to uncover new and successful organizational and operational strategies that are outside of the creative/marketing world. I then modify these strategies for my own business and that of my clients, therefore growing and expanding my insight and knowledge and that of others.

To read more about Pret A Manager:

Emily has consulted with design firms and in-house corporate creative departments for over twenty years. During this time, she has provided confidential, best-practice insights and advice. She helps creative teams improve operational effectiveness and helps companies build efficient teams and processes.

Emily currently serves on the board of advisors of InSource and on the AIGA In-House task force. Emily has also served as Secretary for the AIGA/NY Board of Directors and has taught classes and conducted seminars for many leading design schools and organizations. Emily is a frequently-requested speaker on business-related issues for the creative industry. Learn more at and

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