Turn the clock back 450 years and Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver, became Lord Protector of the Realm while living in Hursley in 1658. The pair of them built a reputation on tough, puritan principles enforced with a rod of iron.

Their style was a far cry from the management techniques employed by Mark Thornhill, landlord at the King’s Head in the Hampshire village just outside Winchester. Mark and some of his team travelled to London this week for the Eat Out Awards where they were named Team of the Year – for the second year running.

“We are absolutely delighted and frankly couldn’t believe it,” Mark says. “We really didn’t think we would even be close. But it’s fantastic for the team and really well deserved.”

Any comparison with the Cromwells really couldn’t be further from the mark. Mark learned his management techniques running a vegetarian restaurant in Disney World. That came after 17 years as a police officer. “In terms of building a team, the only thing I learned from being a copper was never to be a bastard.” That’s probably a sentiment shared by the Disney handbook, if not in so many words.

So how has Mark built the Team of the Year?

“It’s not rocket science. We have great staff retention because we treat people well – more sugar than vinegar. We don’t talk about respect – but regard for each other and our customers.”

Mark and his wife Penny took over the King’s Head 18 months ago and introduced several basic initiatives – like staff meals, a fair tronc system in which everyone, front and back of house, gets well compensated and producer visits.

The 20-strong team, aged 18 to 60-something and including apprentices, are encouraged to see working at the Three Star Food Made Good pub as a career and not a job. And to back that up they are offered various training opportunities.

“People need variety too,” says Mark. “So one of the men who’s a cleaner, we decided to give him some cellar training.”

At the end of a long shift Mark and the team could be found playing Fred Siriex’s Art of Service board game or guess the wine. It helps everyone hone their skills, have a bit of fun and build team spirit.

Mark’s also convinced that joining the SRA and building sustainability into what they do has been a key factor.

“The kitchen team enjoy growing the herbs together and it’s empowering for the front of house staff when they are taking a plate of food to a customer to be able to tell them about its provenance – to tell them that the beef came from a herd literally across the road.”

In the year and a half since Mark took over the pub, sales are 10% up.

Top Tips for a Top Team

  1. Stimulate your staff – offer different skills and encourage them to come up with ideas to improve the business
  2. Level with them – it’s important not to lord it over your employees and don’t demand respect
  3. Train to gain – encourage them to see it as a career not just a job by offering training and development opportunities
  4. Awards bring rewards – these help instil a sense of pride in the team
  5. Have fun – create an atmosphere which means your team want to come to work every day