Tweaking the Recipe

HUDS focuses on human element in renovations

Eliot House Dining Hall Manager Eddie Salerno wasn't sure all of his staff would make it across the balance beam set up in their dining hall.

During team-building exercises over spring break, the staff in the Eliot and Kirkland dining halls strove to send each of its 30 members--of all shapes, ages and sizes--across a thin walkway with the help of their colleagues. "We just decided that we were all going to do it and we made it in only eight minutes," Salerno says.

Much has changed in six months, staff say.

Trust-building play and fresh lines of communication are a far cry from the stress and frustration that Eliot and Kirkland staff members say plagued them earlier in the year.

A $3 million renovation of the kitchen and servery space--meant to improve food quality, efficiency and aesthetics--had resulted in staffing shortages, equipment problems and loads of staff stress.

"Obviously when we started, it was a different job because it was new," says Tina F. Nerahoo, a 31-year general service staff member in Kirkland.

But sensitive about its image, Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) has diligently ushered in a host of changes to help ease that stress and improve the workplace--led by a team of consultants who specialize in issues of teamwork and trust.

And HUDS management says it hopes the lessons it learned in Eliot and Kirkland will smooth the transition with similar renovations in Winthrop and Lowell Houses slated for this summer.