Need to Have an Honest Conversation at the Office? Cook With Your Coworkers

Forget about cubicles vs. open offices. It’s not where we work together that matters—it’s how we do it.

For GOOD’s summer issue, we wanted to facilitate an honest conversation about failure—and we had a hunch that it’d be best to host that kind of dialogue over drinks and dinner. So we worked with our friends at First Seating to make it happen in a tasty, entertaining, and meaningful way. We wanted their perspective about what it takes to truly spark a thoughtful discussion, in the office or anywhere collaboration happens.

Stale sandwiches and canned soda around the same old conference table. Sound familiar? Though corporate America is in the midst of reinventing the modern office—through workplace cocoons, chairless spaces, and office-sanctioned video games—the way colleagues get together to talk through big ideas remains largely unchanged. Enter Carolyn Sams and Isis Krause, two creative strategists and food aficionados on a mission to revolutionize the way we work—and dine—with each other.

When organizations need to shift gears, it’s time to “change the energy in these types of meetings,” they say. For Sams and Krause, that means inviting colleagues into a safe, progressive setting that allows them to feel comfortable opening up to each other. First Seating’s best sessions turn into “a mix of strategy workshop and team retreat,” they say. “We talk about the big, key questions or challenges facing an organization—who we are, where we are going, what we believe in, how we should get there—and we do so in a way that feels engaging and inspiring for everyone.”

And, according to Sams and Krause, one of the best ways to encourage that kind of mindset is to cook a meal together. Preparing food engages all the senses, and loosens people up enough to have a really meaningful conversation. But long before it’s time to plan a menu, First Seating recommends interviewing attendees in advance, informally designing and planning out possible solutions to talk through together the day of the event. “Since people have already been thinking about these ideas, they’re ready to jump in,” say Sams and Krause.

Still, “a long day of thinking and talking is hard, even with great food.” So Sams and Krause think it’s important to guide the discussion, encouraging participants to switch between different modes of thinking and interacting by moving around the space and playing hands-on games. At the end of the day, they say, the most honest conversations come out of exciting, memorable experiences. Food can help make that happen—but there’s no one way to get there.

“As entrepreneurs, there is no formula we have to follow,” they say. “Our business is proof of that.” For anyone looking to collaborate in a more authentic way, hosting a mealtime conversation is a good way to start. Don’t miss Sams’ and Krause’s tips for hosting your own meaningful meal by clicking through the slideshow above. (Plus, get a sneak peek at what it took to facilitate GOOD’s recent conversation about failure.)

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

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