Culture Shift Agency, Case Study
On a sunny New York City Thursday in May we gathered the Minerva team together from around the globe for a virtual BreakBread lunch. Seventeen “Minablers”, as they refer to themselves, from both US coasts, Canada, Germany, Mexico, and Morocco to have a two-hour conversation about…
Well, not just trees but also the underground networks through which trees communicate and pass nutrients such as sugar back and forth. Minerva is a tech startup. What do they care about trees? Much less underground sugar networks Apparently, quite a lot, as we found out.
“In order to give sugar to your community, you need to have sugar to give. Make sure that you refill that cup.”
a post-meal reflection by a Minabler
We were contacted by our friend, Theon Freeman, Minerva’s Head of Community to talk about bringing BreakBread Work to Minerva.
Theon was organizing a daylong event for Minerva to bring their globally dispersed team together into community. It was partly congratulatory – the team had been working hard and some major milestones were accomplished. It was also partly to focus, galvanize, and energize the team for the next uphill sprint.
What he didn’t want was an awkward “office lunch” where everyone snacks on small talk and watches the clock. And he wasn’t looking for a potentially eye-rolling “team-building” experience that felt like work.
Theon had joined us for a couple of our regular Friday night BreakBread dinners as a guest. BreakBread is a process built upon the belief that building a more deeply connected world can be achieved by gathering people together to share and experience deeper, more meaningful conversation while breaking bread together. He felt the type of intimacy and connection engendered by our BreakBread conversations was exactly what would enliven the Minerva community, bringing them closer and more into alignment.
When I learned about this wonderful process that Culture Shift Agency was creating, I knew I had to bring it to Minerva! Having been to several BreakBread World dinners on my own, I envisioned introducing their intentionality, facilitation & thoughtfulness to our 100% remote team.
Theon Freeman, Minerva Head of Community
Fertilizing the Soil of Relatedness
Theon understood that the BreakBread process is designed to fertilize the soil of relatedness which naturally creates the trust needed to build community and a functional work environment.
With BreakBread Work, workmates step out of their everyday work modes and gather across departments and ranks under the auspices of breaking bread together while having a guided mindful conversation. With this, equity begins to naturally form:
“When two people talk with mutual respect and listen with a real interest in understanding another point of view… they are establishing equality between two human beings, more effectively than any law.”
Theodore Zeldin, Scholar
At BreakBread, we purposely avoid focusing on business issues, problem-solving, current events, or debate. Rather, we cultivate intimacy, connection, and relatedness through a process that combines ritual, mindful conversation facilitation, and a purposefully crafted human-centered prompt.
It might seem challenging to hit that level of intimacy in just two hours, but that’s what BreakBread does.
Discovery: What is Minerva About
The entire process was customized to fit our needs. From the consultations to come up with the prompt, to the custom invitation that went out prior to the event, it felt unique to our team and the community that we’re building.
Theon Freeman, Minerva Head of Community
In order to craft the experience, we needed to really understand what Minerva is about.
Like more and more forward-thinking purpose-oriented companies being birthed in today’s economy, employers are asking big questions about values and the role they play in shaping the workplace.
They are asking, how do we create an environment that supports our employees’ desire to do work that is meaningful and fulfilling? How does this in turn affect our customers and how we’re perceived by our customers? And how does this impact our success as a company attempting to thrive in the context of a bottom-line-based reality? How can we create a culture pointed in a purposeful and sustainable direction?
From its inception, Minerva’s founders, Rafael Gonzaque, Joaquin Roca, and Craig Wood brought these questions to the forefront. They set forth a public values statement to form a company based on the values of:
Community, Elegance, Accessibility, Service, Trust, Vision
They also stated their belief that violating these values would pose an existential threat to their company. That’s right, existential threat! This is why we decided to focus the BreakBread Work experience on values.
Our Strategy: Focus the Experience on a Minerva Value
It’s great to aspire to strong values, but how does a company instill the values they deem important without defining them from on high and passing them down as directives? How does a company engender a deeper understanding of these values with meaning and relevance in the context of their own employees’ life experience?
What we mean is, you can’t “do” values just because someone says to do them. Values need to be embodied, personally owned, and thoughtfully nurtured over time. And to really own them you need to approach them not from the outside (as with a directive) but from the inside. Not only from the head but also from the heart.
We decided focusing the prompt on Minerva’s value of community would be our strategy. This would ground the experience in a relevant context while encouraging Minablers to explore the value of community in a more personal way through curiosity, sharing experiences, and thinking. This in turn would weave a fabric of relatedness with one another and potentially strengthen connectedness to the fabric of the company.
The Prompt: A New Conversation
BreakBread conversations revolve around open-ended prompts or questions. They are distinctly designed to focus on the things that make us human. They aren’t about events, people, theories, or politics. They’re not about “getting things done.”
In our discussions with Theon, we presented one of our favorite prompts and he immediately lit up:
“In the book The Hidden Life of Trees, they talk about how through complicated underground fungal networks, trees share nutrients, sending sugar to fellow trees who need it.
Where are underground sugar networks running in the background of your communities? Imagine, what would it look like to radically share more sugar?”
It’s been discovered that some trees thrive because they take care of each other by sharing sugar. The individual contributes to the whole, the whole contributes to the individual. So you could say, just like for groves of trees, human communities are sustained by underground sugar networks operating beneath the surface – friends, family, workmates, the activities we do together, how we care for ourselves and each other.
How Does It Work?
Setting up a BreakBread gathering is very important and this includes how people are invited and where in the schedule the event is placed. With that, we designed a custom invitation for Minerva. And for Theon’s purposes, we strategically scheduled the BreakBread meal for lunch, as a nourishing pause in the full schedule of the full-day company “off-site.”
On the day of, with seventeen Minablers and three BreakBread facilitators we excitedly convened for:
- grounding in presence
- setting the conversation guidelines and…
Then we divided into three breakouts, each led by a trained BreakBread host, where the conversation took off!
At the end, we reconvened as a large group to share takeaways and close the event in full community.
BreakBread conversations are dependent upon who shows up and how they show up at any given specific moment in time. And with BreakBread prompts the conversations are meant to go where each group needs to take them. There are no right or wrong conversations.
As expected, we ended up having three completely different and divergent conversations yet similar themes emerged, and more importantly, the beginnings of a deeper bond for the entire group began to take root. In each group, people actively listened, shared, and asked questions. They heard one anothers’ stories, seeing each other in a new light connecting in new ways that would not normally happen in workaday mode. They moved into their hearts and the shift was palpable. Ultimately they began to round out their perception of each other.
What’s more, was that the feeling of connection and bonding seemed to transfer through to the whole group. Even though three very different smaller conversations took place, upon reconvening the entire group for sharing takeaways, there was a palpable feeling of unity as if everyone had shared the same journey.
By stepping out of the grind of the day-to-day, Minablers began to feel seen and heard in ways they hadn’t before.
After the meal breakouts reconvened into the full group we asked, what are you taking away from today’s conversations? Despite there being three separate conversations, there were similar takeaways and… a lot of smiles.
Here are some direct quotes from an anonymous survey of participants:
I’m feeling understood. It was great to bond over things that other people also have experienced. I thought I was a “special case”, but it was incredible to see the commonality in the feelings.
It is really refreshing to be able to have this space with each other to let the conversation flow freely.
The openness of the prompt allowed for the openness of the conversation, in my opinion.
It gave us space to be vulnerable and open up to each other!
I feel closer to my teammates after this session. 🙂
Thank you for facilitating this event, and providing the space for us to share intimately with each other.
Walking away feeling more connected and I love learning about each other’s backgrounds
You provided enough time and space for people to really engage in conversation… I didn’t even keep track of time
Our team loved the experience, some noting that they felt closer to one another having attended the session. What sets BreakBread apart, is that it allows you to ditch the run-of-the-mill team-building exercises and challenges you to go a bit deeper— to be real!
Theon Freeman, Minerva Head of Community
You could summarize that in talking about each of their own sugar networks Minerva strengthened their own underground sugar network.
Commitment to building a healthy culture means committing to making time to be in community.
We often find ourselves siloed by what we “do” in our work roles and naturally connect more with those we work with more directly and more frequently.
But there’s more to community than what we do together. Who are we as people? And what happens when we dare take time to explore this question together on a regular basis?
We believe BreakBread Work nourishes the soil of relatedness and helps build a foundation of trust that’s foundational to the well-functioning ecosystem of any company.