Shake Shack: A Case Study in Building Great Teams team building case study

This past week, TrivWorks had the honor of producing a series of trivia team building events for NYC staff of Shake Shack, the burger stand arm of legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG). Over the course of two days, we produced a series of events for New York City-area Shake Shack managers, each event customized for the specific group in attendance.

The events were a tremendous success, and I am proud to say that we met and exceeded our stated employee team building goals – however, what really blew me away about this experience was how great of a team Shake Shack already has in place!

The first time I’d heard about Danny Meyer & USHG was back in grad school at NYU, while earning a master’s in Music & Entertainment Business. As part of our Managing Organizational Behavior class, someone from Union Square Café came by to give us a talk about employee motivation & retention. As a “foodie,” I of course knew the eatery as one of New York’s “best restaurants,” which was particularly famous for their customer service. Until then, I’d always assumed that the best way to keep staff happy and treating customers well was to empower them, and pay them a lot; how naïve I was! (I have since met plenty of highly-paid employees with decision making power who are completely miserable at work – as I’m sure you do, too).

That’s why I was so stunned to hear that Union Square Café – in fact all of USHG’s restaurants – have an unusually high employee retention rate. Surely they can’t be paying restaurant staff a fortune – what, then, was the secret to employee happiness and retention?

The secret, it turns out, is in the hiring process.

Unlike most companies, USHG doesn’t have standard interview questions or set criteria for positions; rather, they hire based on intuition: is this a person I’d like to work with every day? Do I trust this person to do their job well, and to reflect well upon both me and the brand? Will he/she work well with our other team members, and not be a bad hire?

It is through this unusually subjective hiring processes that USHG brings new staff on board, to work as part of their high-functioning teams – the results of which were on full display at our Shake Shack team building events. I’ve produced over 500 trivia events, and rarely have I ever seen groups so cohesive, so caring and so genuinely happy to be in the company of their colleagues as I did this week; our events weren’t team building activities so much as team reinforcing ones, helping to make already strong work relationships even stronger.

If you want to know what building a great team looks like, look no further than Shake Shack, USHG and the incredible example Danny Meyer & his visionary team have set.

(Image courtesy of CNNMoney)


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