Build your organisation around people:

Much of the dabbawala organisation’s success is due to their human resource system, in the way they hire, develop, manage and reward people. “It’s an organisation built around people, not around technology.”

Commitment and attitude trump qualifications:

Although the dabbawalas are semi-literate, they are “suitably educated” for their jobs because they believe in serving the customer above all else.

Give employees a sense of purpose and value:

The dedication of the dabbawalas can be partly attributed to the value they place on the work they do. The dabbawalas view their work as worship. They are grateful to have work, and to serve others by delivering food is to serve God. As a result, everyone in Mumbai respects the dabbawalas for the work they do.

Stay true to your core purpose:

While the dabbawala organisation has received suggestions to branch out into other business lines, such as cooking the food instead of merely supplying it, it has stayed true to its century-old purpose. Dabbawala focus on delivering dabbas to our customers as best as we can.

Recruit carefully:

New dabbawalas go through a strict six-month probationary period and are hired from only the villages around Pune, so they suit the working culture. Dabbawalas are all one family, from the Vakari sect. They eat lunch together and we pray together.

Don’t be too lean, build in buffers:

Each dabbawala is capable of collecting up to 20 dabbas a day – but this is the maximum. Usually, in a group, each dabbawala will collect less so that if a dabbawala is sick the others can compensate. New dabbawalas are hired only to replace a member or when there are too many new customers in an area.

Encourage self-discipline:

The dabbawalas are self-motivated to be disciplined, not because they have a superior telling them what to do. They work right because it’s the right thing to do. Self-discipline is the way to make an organisation great.

Create a sense of ownership:

The dabbawala organisation has no employees because every member is a shareholder. So if one member does less work and earns less money, he’s also hurting himself.

Maintain a flat organisation:

Harvard Business School’s case study notes that the dabbawala organisation has evolved into a flat organisational structure to enable quick decision-making.

Abandon bad customers:

One customer should not cause thousands to suffer. If a Mumbai housewife is late with the dabba for more than one week, we no longer serve that customer.