Maya Townsend’s sweet tooth strengthens client relationships
Maya really likes chocolate. I mean really likes it. It all started when she was in college and a chocolate fudge brownie a la mode sundae made her lose track of time and space as she was in total flow with that moment in time. And now she uses chocolate to start client meetings, which brings everyone together and also puts them in a great mood. She also actively participates in chocolate festivals throughout the country and even hosts chocolate tastings. So it looks like Boston just moved up to the top of my cities to visit next!
In this episode, we talk about how your value to your organization is much more than your intellectual capital — it’s the social capital of all your connections as well. And in this world of virtual teams, it’s even important to create these personal connections. And she also offers some really great tips about how to decide which chocolate is actually your favorite.
Maya Townsend is the founder and lead consultant at Partnering Resources. She’s also the co-editor of the Handbook for Strategic HR: Best Practices in Organization Development from the OD Network.
She graduated with a BA degree in Community Studies from Oberlin College and later went on to get an MS from American University and a Certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown University.
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
Other pictures of Maya
(click to enlarge)
- Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close
JOHN GARRETT. Welcome to episode 40 of the Green Apple Podcast, I can’t believe we made it this far, thank you so, so much for listening and sharing this with your friends all these weeks. Every Wednesday I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, which makes them stick out like a green apple in a red apple world. Now let me introduce you to this week’s guest, Maya Townsend, the founder and lead consultant at Partnering Resources where she helps organizations thrive in our increasingly networked world. She spends a lot of time studying the art and science of human networks, and we’ll get into that. She was even the co editor for the Handbook for Strategic HR. You’re obviously super, duper busy, so I’m so grateful to have you on the show with me Maya.
MAYA TOWNSEND. My pleasure.
JOHN. I’m so excited that you’re here and talking about your passion, which is so unique, yet everyone should have this passion if you ask me. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first why don’t you give everyone a little bit of your introduction, in your words a little bit about where you came from and how you got to where you’re at now with Partnering Resources.
MAYA. I started Partnering Resources as a business about 12 years ago now. It’s all about helping people navigate the networked world at the individual level, the organizational level, and also the ecosystem level; looking at how we are interconnected and intertwined, and what that means for organizations that are seeking to be successful. Really how I got into that is I had gone to Washington DC. after college with ideas about saving the world and joined a nonprofit organization, and I was doing program work there. It was really good stuff, but what I quickly learned is that at that particular nonprofit organization, which it was a membership based organization, the members were literally dieing. They were all elders and the organizational leadership didn’t seem to really be aware of this. They knew revenues were down, they knew there were problems, but they didn’t quite grasp the enormity of it. So, part of the work I did there was helping them to see that, and to understand the change, and to help them reach out and expand their networks in order to be a more thriving organization. What I realized pretty quickly is that I like that work more than doing the program work.
JOHN. Right. That’s so fantastic. That’s how I got into comedy, I didn’t like accounting nearly as much as I liked the others. We have a very similar path, and that’s so fantastic. So you just left that and launched your own thing from there?
MAYA. No, not quite. I wasn’t ready to do that.
JOHN. I was going to say, “that’s impressive.”
MAYA. People expect folks from my field to have some gray hair and some more experience, so I did about ten years internal at various companies, I got a certificate, I got a master’s degree, and then I went prematurely gray. I thought, “OK it’s time,” and started my business.
JOHN. That’s the tell tale sign, it’s time now. That’s so fantastic. So when you’re not running Partnering Resources, which I know has to take a ton of time, what sort of hobbies or passions do you love to do on the nights and weekends?
MAYA. I have a lot of hobbies, but the one that I want to talk about today was my chocolate hobby.
JOHN. Oh nice.
MAYA. Yeah. Most of the time when I talk to people about chocolate they are very happy to hear about it, and everyone will say, “I love chocolate.” It’s an easy conversation starter, but I’ve actually gotten a little bit deeper with the chocolate hobby in that I have led professional chocolate tastings, I participate in the chocolate industry, I go to the Northwest Chocolate Festival, and I am involved in helping the industry grow and develop. It’s really exciting and it also means that I get to eat really good, new, innovative chocolate.
JOHN. I was like, does it need to grow more, or are you talking about smaller niche type chocolate if you will?
MAYA. It’s more the smaller niche chocolate. What’s happened for many years, at least in the United States, the chocolate market has been dominated by the big companies by Hersheys…
MAYA. Of the world. When you look at a Hershey bar, actually, it’s only 13% chocolate, Cacao.
JOHN. What?! That’s criminal.
MAYA. That’s completely criminal. The rest of it is sugar, oils, and preservatives. So, what you’re eating when you’re eating a Hershey bar is you’re eating really chocolate flavored candy, which is delicious if you want chocolate flavored candy. There are whole companies now that have emerged over the last 15 years that are doing it differently. They are having more chocolate in their bars, they are building relationships with farmers so that farmers can earn a living wage, and understand more about what kind of cacao people need to produce really delicious bars. What I see my work as doing is helping support that industry.
JOHN. Got it, so the real chocolate.
MAYA. The real chocolate.
JOHN. So that’s why it melts in your hand? Like M&Ms melt in your hands, is that the candy?
JOHN. Holy cow, my mind is blown right now. I feel like I’ve been robbed of my childhood.
MAYA. I will confide in you that I will occasionally eat a Hershey bar bar, because of the nostalgia. It doesn’t mean you need to stop eating it, just means put it in it’s place.
JOHN. There’s a whole other level out there that you’re not aware of maybe. That happened to me when I was in Paris last Fall and I got a hot chocolate there. My life changed. I can’t do a hot chocolate in the US, they put a whole scoop of, I don’t know what it was, magic, deliciousness, and then the warm milk and I don’t know, Nutella or something. It was so thick you almost had to have a spoon to eat it. It was fantastic, it was the greatest thing ever.
MAYA. I want to see more of that in the United States.
JOHN. That would be so great.
MAYA. The nice thing about really good chocolate is that it’s more satisfying, because what happens when you have a Hershey bar is you go on that sugar spike from the sugar, and then it drops. When it drops you crave more sugar to get your energy back up. Whereas when you’re having really good chocolate that’s got less sugar in it, it’s got more fat in it, so it’s more satisfying. So, you actually get to eat less of it and feel better about yourself.
JOHN. That explains why after I had that small hot chocolate, I mean it was tiny, I was stuffed. Wow, OK. So how did you get into finding out that there is this whole other hidden Narnia of real chocolate out there? How did you get into this?
MAYA. That’s a really good question. There’s lots of stories that I tell, but the one, the immediate one, is around 2003 I happened to go to a chocolate tasting and it was led by a woman named Susanne Oakley of a company called Experience Chocolate here in the Boston area. My mind was blown by the chocolate that she was sharing. After, in a chocolate daze, I went up to her and went out on a limb and said, “Susanne if you ever need any help I’d love to help you in whatever way I can.” She said, “well actually I do need help.”
MAYA. Uh-oh. What started from there is I worked with her for several years, not full time as I was doing my Partnering Resources work most of the time, but I was working with her part time to lead professional chocolate tastings to educate people about the range of chocolate out there.
JOHN. That’s fantastic. So when you do a chocolate tasting sometimes they have the wine pairing or something like that, or is it pretty much different kinds of little pieces of chocolate, or both?
MAYA. Sometimes we do wine pairings, I’m not a great wine person so I tend not to do those. I tend to do the ones where you have a number of little squares of chocolate, and they can have different themes. So, you can try them from different countries and see how where the cacao is grown affects the tastes, or you can do different cacao percentages and taste the difference between one that is 80% cacao versus 40% cacao. So there are lots of different ways to do it, but generally my tastings will be the chocolate based ones without the wine.
JOHN. That’s impressive, that’s so cool, and so fun.
MAYA. It requires a lot of homework. You have to be very diligent about your learning and testing your products to make sure they’re up to par.
JOHN. I better have a couple more of these just to make sure I taste the proper percentage. I can tell that you come alive when you’re talking about it and you know so much about it, it’s impressive, it’s fantastic.
MAYA. I highly recommend it to anyone that likes chocolate.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite, it’s going to be hard to narrow it down to one, but maybe a favorite country that develops a certain type of chocolate?
MAYA. I do, I tend to like the South American chocolate. That comes from Venezuela and Ecuador, they make fantastic chocolate there. Although, my kind favorite is Madre, which is a brand that’s produced in Hawaii. Hawaii is the only place in the United States that cacao can grow because it has to grow between 20 degrees North or South of the equator. So, in Hawaii they have been building up their cacao business and Madre does some of the most exquisitely delicious bars that I have ever tasted. So, they are always my entry bar if someone says to me, I actually have a friend who told me last weekend, “well I grew up in Pennsylvania, I’m a Hershey girl all the way, I don’t like any other kind of chocolate.” I gave her a Madre bar and she agreed that it was pretty wonderful.
JOHN. I can tell as you were describing it you paused and you were tasting it, your brain was kicking in. That was fantastic, I’m going to have to check that out. We’ll put a link on GreenApplePodcast.com for people as well. I know we have a picture of you doing a chocolate tasting as well, which is so cool. You can see everyone smiling, so that’s such a everybody wins. Is there a coolest or most rewarding thing that you’ve done since you’ve gotten into the chocolate world?
MAYA. Yes. The story I want to tell happened last year. I was going to the Northwest chocolate festival for the very first time and I think other chocolate conferences, but it was my very first time at this one. I was coming in not knowing anybody, so I decided what I would do would be volunteer. I was volunteering at what they call the unconference, which is the two days before the general festival for people in the trade. I was helping register people during these first two days. I got there early the first morning all set to register people and I hear people talking about ten feet away. They are really concerned because they unexpectedly have a lack of facilitators and they need facilitators for this conference. I raise my hand and say, “well actually I’m a professional facilitator.” So I got to jump in and facilitate the panel sessions, 60-80 people talking about cacao standards and grading, and half the time I had no idea what they were talking about because they would mention the CheckoVision 2000 series grinder, which I have no clue what that is.
JOHN. What kind of chocolate does that make? Can I taste that one?
MAYA. Right, but it was exhilarating, it was so much fun, to be able to support these people in this way and have a really good conversation about the future of the industry.
JOHN. Absolutely, then you’re a part of it, you’re a participant, you’re not just a passive bystander sitting there. For the first time you jumped right into the deep end. That’s fantastic, plus I’m sure you learned a ton.
MAYA. A ton of stuff.
JOHN. Meet some cool people?
JOHN. That’s so fantastic. So would you say this chocolate passion has helped your career on the Partnering Resources side?
MAYA. I think in some ways yes and some ways no. I can’t directly say that I’ve gotten work through the chocolate industry, but what it does do is my chocolate hobby makes me really happy. I think that happiness spills over into my work, and so what I commonly do is I bring samples to clients and we often start off a meeting with a tasting. It does change the tone of the meeting, people are much happier when they get a little chocolate in them. The process of eating chocolate, how I ask them to eat it, is to really take a moment and to sniff it, to let it melt on the tongue, to savor it. So often what it does as well is, it calms people down, it gets them in the moment. I think it helps us have a little bit of a different conversation after they’ve taken that moment.
JOHN. Absolutely, that’s brilliant. Back when I was an auditor I should have brought chocolate to everybody. I think you brought up an excellent point of where it makes you happy, and that just emanates from you and spills over into your work.
MAYA. I think chocolate does make a lot of people happy too. So, I can connect with people very easily. I’m actually a person, I describe myself as an introvert, walking into a room full of people I don’t know is not one of my favorite things to do. Chocolate gives me a way of connecting with people, it’s very rare I find someone who will say, “I don’t like chocolate.”
MAYA. If we ever meet in person ask me for some chocolate, because I always have in my bag at least three different kinds, so I can do a mini tasting anytime.
JOHN. That’s so great, that’s fantastic.
MAYA. Pretty much, yeah.
JOHN. You’re like the Batman of chocolate, or the Wonder Woman. “Someone, anyone got chocolate?” You’re like, “I do, I got three, who needs what?” I love that. So how recent was this passion? It sounds somewhat within the last couple of years. Has it been a super longtime thing?
MAYA. About 2003 is when I got formally involved in it, but actually where my first chocolate awakening happened was in college. One night I was sitting around a table with two dear friends and we ordered at the Mercantile Tea Room in Oberlin Ohio a chocolate brownie with chocolate Haagen Dazs Ice Cream on top. The desert came and the entire room faded away until all that was present was that desert and my spoon. All three of us had a similar experience and it got to what people will call flow, that moment where you’re so in, you’re so wrapped up in what you’re experiencing, that you lose track of time and space, and you’re wholly committed to what’s happening. Later I went on to study flow experiences and food is a common gateway to flow. Ever since that first experience I have incorporated chocolate and used it deliberately as a way to really have that moment of oneness, connection, of joy in where I am and what I’m doing.
JOHN. It’s such a brilliant idea, and especially kicking off client meetings like that, it just brings everyone together. Even team meetings within Partnering Resources, just brings everyone together and we’re all in a moment and we’re all here present. I think that’s brilliant, I think that’s a great idea that everyone listening can do tomorrow. You just have to go get yourself some Madre bars, I feel like this episode is sponsored by Madre for some reason.
MAYA. I can broaden that to tell people who are listening that Whole Foods has a very good chocolate selection, and a great way to start off is just to go to Whole Foods, or actually Trader Joe’s has good selection too, and just get a few different bars. A nice way to start is to get three bars that have the same percentage from different countries and taste them, see what you like, pay attention to what makes you happy. It’s something that really anyone can do as long as they have access to some interesting bars of chocolate.
JOHN. That’s such an excellent takeaway. So is this something that even when you got out of college and you started your first job in DC. saving the world, was chocolate part of that as well or did it slowly creep its way in?
MAYA. It crept it’s way in. At that point in DC. it was more personal, so I would bake and make truffles and things like that. It wasn’t until later, actually till moving to Massachusetts that i began becoming serious about this and learning, reading, educating myself, and becoming more serious about gaining chocolate knowledge.
JOHN. Do you find that there’s a difference between early on in your career where you kept that chocolate a little more personal to now where you share it openly?
MAYA. I think when I was in DC. I was in my 20s, so I was new in the world. I had a sense about what it was supposed to be like, and that sense included some seriousness and professionality. I didn’t really think that things like chocolate and fun could really be part of work. I think it’s been really in the last ten or fifteen years, as I’ve become more comfortable in myself and more experienced as a professional, that I feel like I can relax a little bit and I can bring some fun into the work. I’ve proven myself, I don’t have to prove myself anymore. I need to help organizations, and sometimes actually loosening things up and having a little bit of fun, having a little bit of chocolate, helps with that.
JOHN. I agree 100%, most definitely. That is interesting how when we get out of college that professionalism, if you will, just hammers us. You have to be serious, you have to be always talking about work, don’t smile, all these things. If you did smile, or had fun for even just a minute, what kind of charge code do we put this under, silly things like that. I appreciate you saying that because that’s how we’re all taught and think, and then after we get out into the world for several years we’re like, “wait, it doesn’t have to be like that, and probably shouldn’t.” It’s not as effective as what you mentioned.
MAYA. That’s absolutely right.
JOHN. Most definitely. So I appreciate you agreeing, we’ll keep going. I know that you talk to a lot of organizations, so one thing that I love to think about is when it comes to encouraging people to open up or share, or what have you, is it more on the organization itself to create the culture, or is it more on the individual to actually share?
MAYA. I think it’s a mixture of both. I think if you have an organizational culture that frowns on people sharing it makes it very hard for an individual to step up and do something different. What is better is if an entire team, or an entire department, can set a culture for themselves. Even if they’re inside a company that frowns on people smiling at work, if a team says, “we’re going to be different and we’re going to have some fun while we do our work.” Then, it’s easier, then you’ve got a posse who is doing this with you. The other piece that I’ll mention here is that from my work in organizational networks what I do is I study how people form relationships at work and use those relationships to get things done. Stronger organizations are ones that have stronger social networks where people are allowed to have social bonds, because in times of organizational stress that’s what people draw on. The people go to their buddy, the person that they feel comfortable with, when a VP leaves or there’s a market issue, or a threat of a takeover, it’s that social network that’s so important. We actually have real concrete evidence that says that not only is it fun to have friends at work, it actually makes a difference to organization productivity.
JOHN. That’s so profound, and it makes me feel like I’m not crazy as well. There’s a lot of us out there that are either doing it in small groups, and I love how even if you are at a company, like you said, where the culture isn’t the greatest, within your small little posse, whether it’s a department, small group, or just three of you. You can share that and create the connection and take it to a whole ‘nother level of connection with your coworkers or clients.
MAYA. That’s right.
JOHN. That’s so great, so are there any things other than starting meetings with chocolate, which is genius, that should be college 101 everybody, are there anything that you see organizations do to encourage this culture of sharing or opening up?
MAYA. Yeah, so the people can do it at the beginning of meetings or when a new person joins a team, that’s a great time to stop and get to know someone personally, as well as professionally. The extra plug I’ll make for doing that is that it’s also particularly important for virtual teams, because when you can’t see someone face to face it’s very easy to ascribe intentions to them, or motivations that may or may not be true. So, the more that we can make our colleagues real and get to know something about them, the easier it is to work with them.
One story I can tell about that is about ten years ago a company I was working for decided to outsource some of their application development in their Information Technology area. They were one of the first to really do this on a large scale. When this was first announced the workers at this company actually put up little American flags as protest to say, “our jobs should not be going to people in India.” So what the organization decided is, “this can’t stand, we need to do something.”
So they started a rotation program, which is now fairly standard, the folks from India would come and spend six months in Massachusetts, but not only that they would be assigned a buddy that they would go to dinner with at the Massachusetts person’s house, they would get to know their family a little bit, and it suddenly became much more real for the people in Massachusetts. They could no longer really object because they met Pankash and saw that Pankash is a lovely person with children who liked playing chess. Pankash is just as worth of having a job as everybody else. So, spending that time to get to know people personally is really important, especially in these days when we don’t always get to see our colleagues.
JOHN. That’s such an excellent point that hasn’t been brought up on the podcast yet, with those virtual teams. More and more of us are going to virtual teams in the corporate world too. What might be some barriers that people feel, I know you touched on earlier when you started your career just feeling like you needed to be more serious and dedicated to your job. What might be some other barriers do you think that will hold people back?
MAYA. I think time is a big one that people perceive themselves as having a scarcity of time and doing something like chatting about something outside of work feels like a waste of time. It’s actually exactly the opposite, it’s relationship building and it’s building the ties between you and that other person, making it much more likely that when you need each other you understand each other and can work together effectively. I would really love it if people listening would stop thinking about, “I don’t have time to do this,” and instead start thinking about, “how can I afford not to be doing this? Not building the relationships I need on the job?”
JOHN. That’s huge right there, that’s fantastic. In my market research survey that I have at GreenApplePodcast.com, it’s all anonymous, I ask people what are reasons that they don’t share? Quite often I get, “we aren’t paid to socialize,” or, “there’s no charge code for learning about coworkers.” Actually, why not? There should be. There’s no reason why ti shouldn’t. So I’m so glad that you just said that, because that’s what we are paid for, to get to know each other because then your teams are stronger, you can serve your clients better, that’s why you’re here. What a great point with time.
MAYA. I think it’s particularly important today, because our world is so complex that there is more information out there about accounting, for example, than any one person can store in their head. So, today what’s important is not just our intellectual capital, what we can do in our brains, but also our social capital. It’s who we know, and can we access the information we need? Can we access the help we need when we need it? When I come to work it’ snot just me showing up, it’s me and all those connections I have that represents my value to the organization. I think that’s the shift that we’re moving toward, away from thinking of ourselves as solely individuals, but as emissaries of these large networks. that’s the value that we bring to our organizations.
JOHN. Wow, that’s huge. These are just bombs at the end, I love this, this is so good.
MAYA. Happy bombs.
JOHN. Oh absolutely, happy chocolate bombs. This is excellent. Until we can hang out, although since you have three bars of chocolate I’m pretty sure it’s a slam dunk, I always have my 17 rapid fire questions to get to know you, that way we can see if we should hang out for a little bit.
MAYA. I’m ready.
JOHN. Let me fire this up, get your seat belt on. Here we go, first one. Do you have a favorite color?
MAYA. Sure. You want an answer? Let’s go with purple today.
JOHN. Do you have a least favorite color?
JOHN. Oh wow, nice, that’s a good solid answer. Star Wars or Star Trek?
MAYA. Depends on which Star Wars and which Star Trek. Yes to Star Trek Reboot, yes to Star Trek Voyager, yes to the original three Star Wars and the new one, but a big thumbs down to those horrible ones that will not be mentioned.
JOHN. The prequels, yeah.
JOHN. Cat or dogs?
MAYA. Dogs all the way.
JOHN. PC or Mac?
JOHN. When it comes to a mouse, right click or left click?
MAYA. Right click.
JOHN. How about a favorite Disney character?
MAYA. I like Mulan a lot.
JOHN. OK, that’s not one you hear all the time. How about ocean or mountains?
JOHN. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
MAYA. Probably an early bird.
JOHN. Diamonds or pearls?
MAYA. Neither! Chocolate! Why spend money on jewels? That’s something really precious.
JOHN. That’s the best answer of all time, so good. Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
JOHN. Same time, right hand left hand going at it?
MAYA. No I can’t do both at once.
JOHN. Favorite band or musician?
MAYA. Current favorite is Regina Specter. She does really good alternative rock music, she’s very good.
JOHN. Do you have a favorite number?
JOHN. Infinity. Wow. That’s the number of chocolate bars you want to have at the end.
JOHN. Do you have a movie that makes you cry?
MAYA. Cry in a good way or a bad way?
JOHN. In a good way.
MAYA. I recently saw Inside Out and it made me cry.
JOHN. That’s the Pixar right?
MAYA. Right, a lot of emotions.
JOHN. My brother said that it was really good and actually I think his wife also cried, so you’re not alone on that. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
MAYA. I do not, there are so many good ones out there.
JOHN. How about a Kindle or a real book?
MAYA. Real book, I love the tactile nature or a real book, the smell of it and turning the pages.
JOHN. Last one, favorite thing you own?
MAYA. Favorite thing, You asked me before what was the coolest thing, so I’m going to answer that one, what’s the coolest thing I own? The coolest thing I owned was from my wedding and it was a
huge ostrich feather purple boa.
JOHN. Wow, nice. And it was from your wedding?
MAYA. Yeah, from my wedding.
JOHN. Did you wear it?
MAYA. Of course I wore it! I figured, my wedding and I’m going to wear what makes me feel fabulous.
JOHN. Absolutely, that is so cool. Thank you so much Maya for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast, this was really, really excellent.
MAYA. My pleasure, this was great fun talking with you.