General Mills, the company behind Cheerios cereal and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, is headquartered on a leafy expanse outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. Enclosed walkways connect a network of modernist buildings, protecting Midwestern workers from heat and humidity in the summer, and bitter cold and towering snowdrifts in the winter. Inside the halls, some 3,000 people work on everything from product development and marketing to litigation, regulation and mergers and acquisitions. The employee base is generally reflective of middle America – predominantly white, casually dressed and possessing a genial, if hard-working, disposition.
Yet there are signs that in some significant ways, General Mills has a distinctly unusual corporate culture. Open the right door on a Tuesday morning and you might find a few dozen team leaders and executives meditating silently together on cushions, steeling their minds for the work week ahead. Enter a conference room later that afternoon and witness more than 50 senior employees from across the organisation standing on one leg in the tree pose as they practise yoga. Note that in every building on the General Mills campus there is a meditation room, equipped with a few zafus – or cushions for sitting practice – and yoga mats where, day after day, employees duck in to grab a few minutes of equanimity in between their meetings. These are the most obvious signs that, as an organisation, General Mills has something resembling a collective spiritual life.