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Why I Invited A Cow To A Companywide Zoom Call
Lifestyle Mindset & Meditation

Why I Invited A Cow To A Companywide Zoom Call

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By Kate Goodman, Co-President of ATCO, a fully integrated, 4th generation Real Estate firm based in New York City; C200 Member since 2014.

I’ve always taken meetings very seriously. Getting together regularly as a team keeps everyone informed and on track, and prevents important issues from slipping through the cracks. In my six years as Co-President of ATCO, I’ve run hundreds of meetings with my team members. And we’ve always done things a little differently. As it turns out, our unique approach to meetings set us up perfectly for responding to the changes brought on by COVID-19.

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One of my favorite meetings is the Senior Management Team’s weekly “Kitchen Cabinet,” which includes all of my department heads. We start with a five-minute meditation on apps like Peace, Calm or Mindfulness that I play from on my phone. This focuses the group and sheds the mindset of what happened earlier in the day.

Next, we take turns sharing a positive personal story and positive professional one. I mix up shells with the first letter of each person’s name marked on top, and flip one over at a time, ensuring that a different order of sharing occurs each week. It feels good to laugh and discuss personal victories with colleagues who are usually an integral part of the accomplishment. This exercise alone has really brought the group together and created a sense of trust and understanding.

A lot of companies don’t spend precious meeting time on these kinds of things because they want to get right down to business. In fact, many leaders would balk at starting weekly meetings with meditation and personal stories. But our team learned a long time ago that this approach pays off through increased productivity, honesty, improved teamwork, and overall openness between peers. 

It’s also important to note that our approach to meetings doesn’t compromise our efficiency. As an example, each discussion item must touch everyone in the room so that we are not wasting anyone’s time. If further conversation is needed between certain team members, we cover it at the end so individuals who aren’t necessary to those discussions can leave. We usually wrap up in less than 45 minutes.

When our whole staff began working from home to socially distance, we took some of the strategies from our Kitchen Cabinet meetings and applied them to companywide virtual meetings. We started having a Zoom call every day for our global team of nearly 70 employees. Everyone is required to attend, and meetings only last 10-15 minutes. The most interesting thing about these meetings might be that we don’t really talk about business. Instead, we use the time to connect with each other as colleagues, friends, and human beings.

The past few months have been hard on everyone. With all the uncertainty in the world, many people are battling anxiety, loneliness, and depression. As a leader, I can’t ignore that. Mental health matters—both at home and at work. That’s why our daily meetings have become a way to bring some levity, social interaction, and a sense of community to our staff.       

On our Zoom calls, people are encouraged to switch up their backgrounds to keep it fun. We start out by saying hello to each other, and I usually give a question of the day.  (If you could have any superpower what would it be? Have you ever helped a complete stranger, and if so, how?)  The team then breaks down into random groups, “breakout rooms”, of four to six people to share their answers. These small groups help people get to know each other across teams, which makes it easier for them to collaborate on projects later.  Once a week we mix it up by telling jokes, sharing recipes, or having a fun competition like matching baby photos to our team’s current photos with fun prizes offered to winners. 

And one time we even invited a cow to join us. My Co-President, my brother, connected with an animal sanctuary, and when our staff logged on and everyone’s video started popping up, our sanctuary cow was right there too, resting in the fog. Having a surprise guest lifted the team’s spirit, and it was a great way to break up the monotony of being home every day for weeks (or months) on end. We got to hear a mini lecture from the sanctuary manager to learn about the cow, and then we all went on with our day feeling a little lighter than we were before.

Now that so many companies have shifted to remote work arrangements, there has been an increased focus on running effective virtual meetings. I couldn’t agree more that meetings are essential and must be well planned, but I urge you to go beyond discussing projects and business strategies. Prioritize time for socializing and team bonding! Your efforts will pay off by bolstering productivity, engagement, and the overall happiness of your team. And if you’re struggling to think of fun ways to add variety to your meetings, take it from me that special guests are a hit!

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