Bowl Talk

Getting your teammates to talk to one another

Friday Afternoons

When my startup’s team was perhaps only six or seven people, we came up with an idea we called Bowl Talk.

The concept was simple. We had a bowl placed in the office, where anyone could write conversation starters on a sticky note. These ranged from “If you could only eat one fruit for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?” to “Would you rather go 100 years into the past or 100 years into the future?”

Every Friday afternoon, the whole team would stop working and sit in our common area. There was only one rule: Inspired by the prompts, we had to talk to one another for 30 minutes. If there was a lull in the conversation, we’d pull another sticky note and read it out loud.

Amid the daily scramble that is startup life, this silly routine seemed out of place at best. At worst, it frustrated team members who found it an unnecessary distraction. But I insisted—sometimes to their chagrin—that everyone get involved, every single time.

Here’s why: It was an ice breaker for the team. And I don’t simply mean “ice breaking” in the traditional sense, wherein people get to know one another. It certainly was helpful for that reason, forcing colleagues who didn’t interact outside of work to engage casually. But it also served for “ice breaking” of the day-to-day scuttle that so often stressed us out. A necessary thawing period. A way to unwind before the weekend.

We became better friends through this process, as well as better coworkers. And we continued the tradition until the team was too big and too distributed to allow for it.

After every Bowl Talk, we’d collect the sticky notes we discussed and placed them on the wall by the entrance to our office.

Here’s the only (awfully blurry) photo I was able to find of that wall:

Each time a guest would enter the office—be it a user, an interview candidate, an investor—they would sit on the couch opposite that wall and inevitably read this random collection of conversation starters.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it might trigger an unexpected conversation with them too.