Skip to main content

Join the Community

or Close

Search

Leadership Lessons Learned from Corporate Baristas

Walk into the Evernote headquarters in Redwood City, California and you are bound to be impressed by the full-scale Espresso bar in the lobby.  Whether you are in the mood for a Vegan Raspberry White Chocolate Mocha or a cup of black with two creams and two sugars, you can get your liquid fix without ever having to leave the property. 

Evernote hasn’t hired baristas to staff their espresso stations, however.  Instead, every employee is given four hours of brewmaster training and then scheduled to work a one-hour shift in the company’s coffee bar each week. 

Evernote’s goal was to create informal opportunities for staffers to interact with one another.  When individuals come together in shared spaces – whether they are making high-end coffee for one another or not – connections are made, relationships are strengthened, and ideas are spread throughout the organization.  Espresso duty has also allowed Evernote’s employees to clear their heads and to work creatively beyond their positions for an hour a week, a surprising side benefit cited by staffers who wouldn’t trade their hour behind the company’s coffee pots for anything (Bernson, 2014).

What’s really surprising about Evernote’s approach to corporate caffeination is that even senior level employees – including CEO Phil Libin – are expected to work weekly shifts making espresso for their coworkers and subordinates. 

Evernote’s executives don’t begrudge their coffee duties, either.  Instead, they see time spent serving coffee as an invaluable opportunity to keep in touch with the company.  Inundated with the pressures that come along with running a million-dollar business that employs 350 people, making time to stay connected – to see and be seen, to gauge company morale, to get a sense for what’s working and what’s not – is both essential and rewarding.  Just as importantly, regular espresso shifts for the company’s bosses create incredibly open lines of communication.  No one has to fight to find Libin.  They just have to check the coffee bar schedule and figure out when he’s working (Bernson, 2014).

The leaders of learning communities could learn a ton from Evernote’s approach to corporate coffee making and culture building. 

Most importantly, if you want ideas to spread through an organization dependent on human relationships, it is essential to create spaces for connections to happen.  While faculty meetings and professional development days might be valuable forums for moving formal agendas forward, real progress in schools is equally dependent on the kinds of organic networking and intellectual cross-pollination that happens when staffers come together informally. 

Successful leaders also create time for THEMSELVES to be active participants in these networked spaces.  Doing so gives leaders a better sense for the overall health of their schools and/or systems.  Instead of relying on second-hand reports about the progress that your school is making, put yourself in the center of your building’s public spaces and start listening.  Doing so also gives teachers ready access to organizational decision makers.  When you are visible and open, you become approachable and human – two traits that define the most successful school leaders.

Does any of this make sense?

Work Cited: Bernson, Alex. "A Different Kind Of Coffee Break At Evernote HQ." Sprudgecom. Sprudge: Coffee News and Frothy Gossip, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.

_________________

Blogger's Note:  This post first appeared here on Solution Tree's All Things PLC blog.  Thought you might dig it too.

_________________

Related Radical Reads:

Constantly Fighting the Good Idea Fairy

Leadership Lessons Learned from a Vegas Casino

Evolutionary Lessons for the Principals of PLCs

8 Comments

Parry Graham commented on April 11, 2014 at 6:59pm:

Makes total sense, Bill. As a

Makes total sense, Bill. As a high school principal, I can tell you that it is critical that I put myself in spaces where I can have "real" interactions with staff and students. It's also incredibly challenging, given the demands of the job. But the barista story here is a perfect example of figuring out how to systemically ensure that people have contact with each other, and that decision-makers have contact with front-line employees.

Great post!

PG

Bill Ivey commented on April 12, 2014 at 8:23am:

tons of sense

First, a Vegan Raspberry White Chocolate Mocha makes a ton of sense in and of itself!
But so does the rest. It took me back to when I was a "lecteur" (basically, a teaching assistant) at the Université de Bordeaux - III when I was first married. There were 16 of us, and among our duties was staffing the English café. We signed up for shifts to make sandwiches and coffee and probably other things too that people ordered much less frequently. It was a ton of fun, a great way to connect to people on an informal and fun basis, and yes, also a way to track morale and share teaching ideas and take the pulse of the place. It also provided the students an excuse to come speak English informally outside of class. It's one of the things I miss most about that job, actually.

Like most schools, mine is not particularly good at creating spaces (timewise, or even to some extent physically) for people to just hang out together. One of our most fertile periods of growth was when my friend Catherine, who taught the science and math courses, shared the middle school office with me (there's room for three) and, once we learned how to know when it was probably okay to interrupt each other, we'd bounce ideas back and forth, share our worries and concerns, support each other, and incubate ideas we could then bring to the team meeting. Since she and her husband left for another school, I've been pretty much alone in the office, since everyone else sticks to their room or has an office of their own, and that kind of collaborative generating of ideas only happens during the team meeting itself. While we do work together, the once-a-week for 50 minutes format is somewhat formal and constricting for the kinds of things we're talking about.

I remember being given a tour of my son's middle school and seeing their faculty room. It was relatively huge, with desks everywhere, loosely clumped by department but easily accessible to everyone else. They talked about how they loved the informal exchanges of ideas that ensued, both within and across departments. I got it then to some extent - and I *really* get it now.

So I guess it doesn't have to be coffee. But I'd love it if it were.

And meanwhile, if anyone knows where I can get a Vegan Raspberry White Chocolate Mocha, please let me know!

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on April 14, 2014 at 9:27am:

Bill wrote:

Bill wrote:

Since she and her husband left for another school, I've been pretty much alone in the office, since everyone else sticks to their room or has an office of their own, and that kind of collaborative generating of ideas only happens during the team meeting itself.

--------------------

Isn't it interesting, Bill, how physical structures in our buildings -- in your case, individual offices for every teacher -- can inadvertantly create spaces that inhibit collaboration?

I hadn't ever thought about the fact that planning in my classroom may be easy, but may also preventing our team from developing the kind of strong culture necessary for actually doing great things. 

And as for the Vegan Rasberry thingy, I THINK I Googled that and found it on a Starbucks menu!  I literally don't know a thing about Vegans OR coffee, so that's a place where I turned to the web for inspiration.

Hope you actually track one of those suckers down someday. 

Rock on,

Bill

Richard commented on April 12, 2014 at 12:58pm:

This makes sense to me, Bill.

This makes sense to me, Bill.  I think any time we come outside of our shells or cubicles or classrooms and interact with others in another venue or on another topic, we can build relationships.   If we're fortunate, those relationships can also translate to other topics.

Maria Clinton commented on April 12, 2014 at 1:06pm:

This absolutely makes sense!

This reminds me of a comment made by a teaching candidate.  In answering a question about the role collaboration plays in good teaching, she cited the "hallway conferences" she had during her student teaching experience, when she chatted with her neighbor between classes.  She got great support, feedback, ideas for adapting her lessons, and probably much more.  I think we have all had that experience of informal interactions giving us support and ideas for improving our practice.

The next question, though, is how do we purposefully build in the time and space for these interactions to happen, particularly for our administrators, who are constantly running from meeting to observation, to crisis, etc.  

Jennifer Henderson commented on April 12, 2014 at 1:43pm:

Lightbulb

This post helped me to appreciate my situation this year.  Coming from a middle school to a high school, I felt a little lost moving from my own classroom where I can create a personalized atmosphere for my kids, to an office of 16 teachers.  I was worried about complaining, whining and just generally getting off task.  But that is not at all what it's turned out to be.  The conversation is not always about teaching and school, but it does always give me insight to my colleagues, their strengths, interests and life outside the classroom.  I should value this time, because it creates connections and reminds me that I am not alone in this important job we do.

Lauren Hill commented on April 12, 2014 at 7:27pm:

Wish!

At our school, it isn't an hour a week at a coffee bar, but an our a week in our "in school suspension" room.

You remind me here how important casual time is in a work environment.  I have never ever prioritized it.  I work every single minute I am at school, usually in my room with my students or alone.  I've always seen the sacrifice as necessary; I just can't get everything done in the time I have, and talking to my coworkers about their kids or whatever is just not on the agenda.

I see the value.  But just like yoga, I can't seem to make time to do it.  I appreciate the this reminder that I need to keep trying.

 

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on April 14, 2014 at 9:37am:

Lauren wrote:

Lauren wrote:

You remind me here how important casual time is in a work environment.  I have never ever prioritized it.  I work every single minute I am at school, usually in my room with my students or alone.  I've always seen the sacrifice as necessary; I just can't get everything done in the time I have, and talking to my coworkers about their kids or whatever is just not on the agenda.

-----------------------

I definitely agree with you here, Lauren -- and see myself falling into the same pattern.  The word "sacrifice" describes my attitude too -- It's almost like I see the choice to work alone as necessary given how much I have to get done. 

But I'm starting to wonder whether or not working with others -- even informally just by being in the same room -- would make me MORE efficient than I already am.

If I could steal ideas or develop relationships that would pay off in the long run when I was looking for help, it might be worth spending more time together. 

I've got to figure out a way to make that work next year.

Bill

Join the Conversation!

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Subscribe to Blogs by Bill Ferriter

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive the latest news and events through email!

Sign Up