Sitting in a circle, passing around a purple rock, and sharing stories about yourself may take you back to summer camp, but it is in fact, a corporate get-to-know-you exercise that Snap Inc — from its CEO and board of directors to its regular employees— regularly do.
Called “Council,” the corporate icebreaker was recently detailed in a Bloomberg profile on the Snapchat and Bitmoji maker’s culture and its attempt to capitalize on Twitter and Facebook’s failures.
“Employees show up in groups of about a dozen, sit cross-legged on black cushions, and take turns with the ‘talking piece,’ a heart-shaped purple geode that gives the bearer the right to confidentially share deep thoughts,” reporter Sarah Frier said. “Outside the round room, morale at Snap has been low recently. Inside it, employees were connecting with each other, at times emotionally, about their childhoods, hopes, and fears.”
Council is an exercise that Snap Inc CEO Evan Spiegel learned in his own childhood at a Santa Monica, California, prep school. With Spiegel’s buy-in, the rest of the company has added Council to its workflow and now, Council has a staff of six full-time and eight part-time facilitators moderating sessions. Bloomberg reported that all employees must do Council when they are first hired and even board of directors do it before quarterly meetings.
In Snap Inc’s promotional video on Council, as employees happily pass around a stuffed animal and chat, three rules get laid out: 1) Speak with your heart, 2) Listen with your heart, and 3) Whatever happens at Council stays in Council.
How to get employees to open up if you don’t have Council
You do not need to pass around a purple rock and share your embarrassing high school stories to get to know your coworkers better. You do not even need to be friends with your coworkers to socialize with them. Council’s mandated intimacy is a more extreme version of what experts advise companies to do to help employees bring their most authentic selves to work: use structured exercises and orient the icebreakers around learning.
As Harvard Business Review explained in an article on how to help these exercises feel authentic and inclusive, happy hours are not the best way to get employees to open up. There are too many variables —cliques, drinking, the managers in the room— preventing people from getting vulnerable and sharing.
“Recognize the role that structure can play in easing the discomfort created by free-form socializing. Instead of the typical cocktail party, where some people (of any race) struggle to navigate the room, introduce themselves, and choose how, when, and with whom to initiate and exit conversations, consider a different approach,” the experts said. “Some companies use formal ice-breaker games that create orderliness and purpose, reducing that need to navigate.”
This can mean promoting structured activities like intramural sports to get different teams together. And if you have nothing to talk about, remember that you share one common purpose by virtue of being coworkers.
“Remember that no matter how diverse the workgroup, all its members have one thing in common: the work,” HBR said.