The New Organizational Structure for Bars

A restaurant or bar with less than 10-12 people can operate as a self-managing team, where the peer commitments replace hierarchical relationships. This way, the expertise is pushed down to the teams, instead of up into the staff departments (HR, PR, R&D), managers and bosses. If the restaurant or bar is bigger than 12 people, or it is a chain of venues under the same brand, parallel self-managing teams can run the venues independently. Different branches can get support from other teams as well as from team coaches, who don’t have a stake in the game, and from supporting roles, such as founders and CEO’s, who are holding/facilitating the space for Teal practices.

When there are no managers in the bar, the traditional management tasks are distributed among the staff. The team is in charge of setting the directions and priorities of the bar (targets, marketing, equipment purchases, cleanliness, community building etc.). They analyze problems, make plans, evaluate people’s performance and of course, make the occasional tough decisions. Instead of overworking a single manager, the boss, with all these tasks, they are distributed among the whole team. This creates a new level of empowerment by having a self-managed and self-organized work environment.

Instead of having employees, workers or managers, the team is now made from colleagues who are accountable to each other in a peer to peer basis. In a bar, you could say the team is made of bartenders or hospitalians. Or as in my future venue, the team is going to be made of “mates”. Another great initiative comes from a community driven Kåska company (check out their social media or visit their office in Helsinki, you will hear from them later in this channel too!) where their team members are called champions.

Eetu Topo (on the right), one of the founders of Kåska, at their Helsinki office

All new recruits and new teams, especially the opening team, should participate in a training where everyone learns a coherent set of skills and techniques for healthy communication styles as well as efficient group decision making processes. The aim is to deepen the knowledge of the basic, but often overlooked ingredients of human collaboration and communication. The learning outcomes include themes such as how to run meetings, how to resolve conflicts and disagreements and how to coach or lead one another in a peer to peer environment. As an example, in Buurtzorg (healthcare organization) all the new recruits participate in a training course called “Solution-Driven Methods of Interaction” which is developed and taught by Ben Wenting and Astrid Vermeer of the Instituut voor Samenwerkingsvraagstukken in Groesbeek, the Netherlands. To learn more from them, check this link.

By stripping the vertical power hierarchy of the pyramid model, a bartender is not just empowered to make decisions – they actually are truly powerful. since there is no one above them having a decision-making power over them. This means, that there is no managerial ladder to climb up and one’s value is measured by their actual expertise in a meritocratic way. As a bartender, you can take on responsibilities and start initiatives to improve your skills and to make yourself a strong member of the team. Later on, when your or your teams situation and skill set change, you can reorganize everyone’s responsibilities depending what is best at the current moment. The change can be initiated by internal or external reasons, or even personal reasons. When facing a new phase in life, like becoming a parent or starting a study program, it is only natural to reorganize your participation and involvement with the team. Similarly, overcoming family or health related matters can be a reason for shifting responsibilities around.

Eventually, the organization will be filled with naturally born networks and links between the team members, adapting to the seasons in an agile way. Even though everyone is part of the whole, the complex setting of service is divided into structures and coordinated mechanisms. It’s still crucial to have specific areas and tasks everyone is responsible for during a shift. For example in a shift, you can have a Bartender, a Bartender no.2, Floor person 1, Floor person 2, a dedicated prep person and a doorman (although many times outsourced). Nevertheless, everyone should ideally know each area and section and be able to help out if needed and possible.

“It’s not the work of the organization to develop people, but people are given the opportunity to develop by doing the work of the organization”

Tom Thomison

Even if a bar group has several venues, there is no need for a group manager who would traditionally be overseeing the venues and have decision making power. Instead, there should be coaches who interact with the team but are not responsible for the teams results. The coaches have no targets to reach and no profit-loss responsibility. They don’t even receive bonuses if their teams perform well. The coaches are chosen for their coaching capacity – they might be older, highly experienced and with strong interpersonal skills. Since coaches have no responsibility, and they don’t manage and control, the teams and the owners are the ones with performance related responsibilities.

Self-management is not an easy thing to master and therefore the coaches are highly important, even though they have no hierarchical power. New teams (especially opening teams) are facing a quick and steep learning curve on how to run a small organization (the size of their team) without managers, HR or admins. At the same time, they are learning to manage a boss-less, self-organizing team and enhancing their interpersonal skills within the group. That’s where the coach comes handy – helping out with questions and giving guidance if asked. With their expertise, the coach can share knowledge of how other teams have solved similar problems and this way give the team something to work with.

Arlechin, Melbourne

Coaches should not be too involved with any one team, otherwise they might be intrigued to have too much control and start micromanaging. Even 40-50 people per one coach can be ok, if they are focusing only on the most important issues. The coach does not have a job description per se, but every coach is encouraged to find a way to grow into their specific way of filling their boots, based on their character and talents.

However, here are some guidelines for the coaches to think about by Frederic Laloux (Reinventing Organization book p.70):

  • “It’s ok for teams to struggle. From struggle comes learning. And teams that have gone through difficult moments build resilience and a deep sense of community. The coach’s role therefore is not to prevent foreseeable problems, but to support teams in solving them (and later help them reflect on how they’ve grown in the process):
  • The coach’s role is to let teams make their own choices, even if she believes she knows a better solution
  • The coach supports the team mostly by asking insightful questions and mirroring what she sees. She helps teams frame issues and solutions in light the company’s purpose and its holistic approach to provide hospitality.
  • The starting point is always to look for enthusiasm, strengths, and existing capabilities within the team. The coach projects trust that the team has all it takes to solve the problem it faces”

Furthermore, here are some guidelines for the teams to make self-management work in practice by Frederic Laloux, (Reinventing Organizations, p.70):

  • “A team should not grow larger than 12 persons. Beyond that number, it should be split.
  • Teams should delegate tasks widely among themselves. They should be careful not to concentrate too many tasks with one person, or a form of traditional hierachy might creep in through the back door
  • Along with team meetings, teams plan regular coaching meetings where they discuss specific issues encountered with patients (guests) and learn from each other (using specific group coaching technique).
  • Team members must appraise each other every year, based on competency models they can devise themselves
  • Teams make yearly plans for initiatives they want to take in the areas of client care and quality, training, organization, and other issues
  • The target for billable hours in mature teams is 60 to 65 percent.
  • Teams make important decisions based on the specific decision making technique outlined earlier.”

One thing that might be difficult for people to wrap their head around, is that there is no managerial ladder to climb up. Learning to let go of the managing and controlling environment can be tricky. Every role a person takes is a commitment they make to their peers. In a way, anyone can “sit in the bosses chair” to bring about important decisions, launch new initiatives, hold underperforming colleagues to account, help resolve conflicts or even take over leadership for a moment, if the situation looks bad and action is needed.

Okey, hold on. Just to clear up a few misperceptions:

Practicing self-management doesn’t mean there is no structure or that everything would be informal and chaotic. The “no managers” idea doesn’t mean that anybody can do what they want. As mentioned before, just like in the free flowing nature, there are structures and coordinated mechanisms in place, in order to work efficiently and reach decisions.

Self-management doesn’t mean that decision making is always based on consensus or that there would be an endless amount of meetings. In fact, due to self-management tools, the decision making processes are both simpler and more efficient than consensus. Therefore, self-managing organizations tend to have fewer meetings than many other workplaces nowadays.

Self-management is not that experimental or unproven way to run a business. Teal ideas are very common in the start-up world and examples range from IT and gaming industries to cryptocurrency and retail companies. Some companies mentioned in the Reinventing Organization book have been operating in self-managing way for decades. History shows that they have been remarkably resilient against economic downfalls – even more resilient than most traditional companies.

Cover photo by my dear friend Jeffry Santony (Instagram @kemosabediary)

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Mika Ammunét Written by:

Bar Manager, Future Bar Owner

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