Does everybody know the story of stone soup? It’s a folktale, and there are many versions, but in a nutshell, a villager in a village somewhere, sometime, sets a pot of water to boil over a fire with only stones to flavor the broth, hoping to elicit contributions from other villagers to make a satisfying, hearty soup meal for all to enjoy and to celebrate the spirit of cooperation and contribution and sharing along the way. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (or something like that). Here’s one version of the story.

In the spirit of collaboration, a co-worker and I decided to make stone soup for a luncheon following the final, formal workshop in our Culture Change initiative, which I’ve written about previously, here and here. We both enjoy food and cooking, and while creating a potluck lunch of some sort was my idea, I can take no credit for the stone soup idea–it was all his, and a good one, too.

Instead of just sending out an email reciting the details and asking for specific contributions via a sign-up sheet in the kitchen, we decided to start the story with the hope that it would evolve. I sent out an office-wide email from both of us saying that we were going to make stone soup and that my co-worker would be contributing the water, and I would be contributing the stones We kind of left it at that hoping that enough people were familiar with the story and would catch on quickly. We each had a copy of the book prominently displayed on our desks, too, in case anyone was in the dark.

At first, nobody responded. So my co-worker did–he said, “You know, stones and water will make a nutritious broth, but wouldn’t it be nice if we had some carrots to sweeten the broth?” At that point, somebody did catch on and responded with an offer of carrots. We thanked them, and then somebody else responded with an offer of potatoes or something else–we got 2 more offers and this took a total of about 5 emails over the course of a few days. We started well enough ahead so that we could take our time building the recipe we had in mind, which is this in case you’re interested.

At this point, it got a little tricky. One of the issues that had come up during our culture change meetings was the issue of email–too much of it. And here were my co-worker and I generating unnecessary (frivolous?) email that threatened to clutter the inboxes of our colleagues. What happened was this: Some people enjoyed it–they were going along for the ride. Some people didn’t care either way. And some people found the email exchanges to be a nuisance. We also discovered there were vegans/vegetarians among us, and the soup called for using chicken broth and sausage.

And I think this is where compromise and flexibility and agility kicks into play. My co-worker and I were trying something new–a way to illustrate the whole gist of what we’d been doing for the past six months–working on ways to collaborate more effectively and creatively to create a richer, more enjoyable work environment. And make a delicious soup in the process.

But just because it was fun for us (and others, too), didn’t mean that it had to be fun for everyone. Because we’re all different, and we all view things differently. Continuing in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, we stopped the email narrative and posted a sign-up sheet in the kitchen to collect the remaining ingredients. We decided to make two versions of the soup–with and without meat/animal products. The sheet did fill up, mostly. I’d say we ended up with contributions from over half the staff. In addition to ingredients for the soup, we received offers of bread and sweets to accompany the main meal.

Tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m., my co-worker and I will hit the kitchen and assemble the soup so that it will simmer during our workshop and be ready to eat when we’re through. We have solicited one volunteer cook–who knows who else may show up to help? And if not, well, that’s okay, too. Because the whole point is to open up possibilities so that others may choose to join or not to join for whatever reasons. Just because someone isn’t interested in making soup doesn’t mean that person may not lead the next initiative, whatever that may be.

I think the key is to offer what you have within you to make the most of what can be. I connect through cooking, and so do at least a few of my co-workers. By offering what we make and welcoming all to the table, we will be sharing and collaborating in a way that makes sense to us. As the group comes together to enjoy the soup made from the collective efforts of many, we can be satisfied knowing that we tried something new. Some new things work; others don’t. Either way, success is measured by the value realized from the effort. Finding a way to celebrate the differences between us is much better than making those differences a point of contention.

And won’t it be lovely to smell the fragrant, savory scent of the simmering soup while we meet to exchange thoughts, and ideas, and opinions? These intangibles will mingle and combine to create something greater than any one idea or thought just as the soup will taste better as a meal than any one ingredient might taste on its own. At least that’s what we hope.

Oh, and there won’t be any real stones in our soup, just for the record. But they’ll be in there in spirit.

Stay tuned for part 2-