The science and stories of human connections With Erica Keswin, Founder of The Spaghetti Project


Every morning, Spaghetti Project founder Erica Keswin sits at her local coffee shop, feels the warmth of the coffee in her hands and strategizes about how to get the most out of her day.

In years past, Keswin's morning caffeine fix always consisted of drinking coffee while firing off emails from her phone. But one day, she realized, this habit of reaching for her phone whenever she had a spare moment made her not fully present. "I couldn't even remember what the coffee tasted like because I was working the whole time," Keswin says. So, she decided to be more intentional about her interactions with technology and use her morning cup of joe to focus and strategize about her day.

"Firefighters who were dedicated to the long-standing tradition of the firehouse meal saved more lives."
— Erica Keswin

Keswin has become an evangelist for the thoughtful use of technology and making decisions just like this through her work with the Spaghetti Project. A former consultant at Booz Allen & Hamilton and the Hay Group, Keswin was inspired to start the Spaghetti Project by a 2015 Cornell University study. The researchers in the study looked at firefighters in Philadelphia and found that the firemen who ate dinner together had more effective teams. So she started the platform for sharing the stories and science behind workplace collaboration, and named it in honor of the traditional firehouse meal of spaghetti and meatballs.

With Erica Keswin, Founder of The Spaghetti Project

Harnessing the right tools to build relationships

People, content and conversations are more tightly linked than ever before in the Information Age. For companies to succeed in this new world order, they need to build strong internal relationships so employees can collaborate productively. Creating those relationship-building moments like eating meals together can make all the difference. "It's not rocket science, but it takes discipline and a real desire," she says.

"Left to our own devices, we're not connecting." — Erica Keswin

Setting aside time to come together on values, teamwork and technology is a win-win for everyone. It doesn't always have to be formal — it can be as mellow as a regular team lunch to build camaraderie. Turnover is expensive, and companies that retain employees see huge bottom-line implications. Not to mention creating an exciting, engaged environment makes work a more stimulating place to be for everyone. The reason why firefighters in the Cornell study were more effective is that they took time to bond and have intentional interactions with one another. 

Bridging generation gaps with (and without) tech

Technology can play a huge role in helping — or sometimes hurting — productivity and engagement, and that's where CIOs need to partner with other C-suite leaders to coach employees on the appropriate use tech resources. 


Whereas some staff might prefer in-person communication, digital chat and texting apps can be a perfect way to collaborate with other employees. At one company Keswin knows of, the CEO and other senior executives gathered together in a room, traded tales of employees who had performed exceptionally and then spent two hours texting all the millennials. It can be incredibly impactful for a millennial staff member to get a text from the CEO of the company saying, "You really rocked it in that client meeting."


No one way of communication is the right way, but employees and executives all need to be coached to be intentional in how they communicate so they form the deepest and most productive connections possible. "If I'm running five minutes late to meet you for coffee, I'm going to send a text," Keswin says. But in other cases, maybe you should jump on a plane to meet someone in person or call them on Skype so you can see them face to face. "To me, really positioning technology to help you strengthen relationships is critical," she says. 


By making your workplace not just centered around files, but also around people and information, you can build the competitive workflow that can take your company to the next level.


With Erica Keswin, Founder of The Spaghetti Project


"You need to create programs, incentives and policies around making the workplace more human." 
— Erica Keswin


With Erica Keswin, Founder of The Spaghetti Project

The Blueprint for humanizing collaboration

  1. Create intentional time on a regular basis (at least weekly) to eat or do another simple bonding activity with your team. 
  2. On an individual level, take 5 minutes each morning to visualize your day and prepare for effective productivity and communication. 
  3. Discuss at the executive level guidelines and habits to build for your teams, and then communicate those guidelines company-wide. 


About Erica Keswin

Erica Keswin is a workplace strategist who has worked for the past 20 years with iconic brands as a consultant, speaker, writer and professional dot-connector. Her forthcoming book, Bring your human to work: Ten sure-fire ways to design a workplace that is good for people, great for business, and just might change the world, will be published by McGraw Hill in the Fall of 2018. She's a contributor to various media outlets like the Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, O Magazine and others. And she is the founder of the Spaghetti Project, a platform devoted to sharing the science and stories of relationships at work.

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