2. The New Bar Model – Symbiosis

The new organizational model recognizes bars as living organisms constantly evolving towards wholeness, complexity and consciousness. This holistic approach links bartenders to each other in a unique way, creating a particular type of ecosystem including all the moving parts. Guests and the community around the venue are, of course, included in the whole holistic hospitality combo. But for now, let’s focus on understanding the park before letting people walk in it.

Just like a forest, where changes happen everywhere and all the time, a bar is an environment that is constantly in progress. Whether it’s an ongoing menu change, upcoming weekly staff training or onboarding a new staff member, you are always five deep in the bar – even when the doors are closed. In many cases today, the burden to keep all the balls in the air falls to the head bartender, the general manager or the owner itself. Burning out, partially executed projects and empty promises of “I’ll do it tomorrow” are not unheard in this industry. Why should it be that way?

The upgraded model transforms bars into self-organized systems through every colleague, without a need for a centralized command and control system with a micromanaging supervisor. I have seen this happen in a venue I once worked. There, every member of the team took turns in ordering the fresh produce daily, creating house cocktails and consistently cleaning different parts of the bar, without the need of approving things with the management or waiting to be told to do so. We are all human and slipping of the unspoken code sometimes happened. But the management was there to merely remind us to pull our weight as promised instead of finding new ways to use a bar spoon.

In order to make the new adaptive system to work, everyone in the company has to practice their self-management skills. And they have to practice these skills in relation to the others as well, hence the ecosystem reference. As cliché as it is, everything is connected. For example, an ecosystem such as a forest, with billions of plants, organisms and animals, cannot run with a hierarchy and a centralized management system.

Self-management is about finding the self-control and mastery needed to take control of one’s work (e.g., to manage one’s time, workflow, and communication).- Camille Preston, PhD, PCC, Forbes Councils Member

Imagine that the winter comes early one year, and the oldest tree of the forest would be the one to make all the decisions concerning the forest. It would be responsible for arranging meetings, gathering information and distributing tasks for the whole flora before any plant or bush could act and defend themselves against the cold. Many of the more delicate plants would freeze while waiting for the information to dribble down the hierarchy. Instead, if every weed and vine, even the smallest roots, know how to prepare for the winter without a “manager” telling them what to do, they can survive.

Nordic Ice Company/Original photo by Kalle Nio.

Okay. Fair enough. I get it. It’s a bit of a green and romanticized view but take a deep breath and let it marinate for a moment. Let it sink in like that perfectly stirred -7 degree Dry Martini – rare in real life but that’s what you aim for. Always.

The forest example is not completely equivalent to the situation in bars, but as an ideal system, it is an excellent illustration of what we should aim for. Not every barback has to or even wants to know what the sales forecast for the third quarter of this year is, but the point is that they should have a chance to look it up. This brings us to the transparency of the organization.

Traditionally, the information flows from top to bottom. The more sensitive or valuable the material is, the less it’s shared and the more the root level could be left with filtered and carefully presented info, breeding distrust. Another question comes up. What are they not telling us?

Being transparent across the board builds trust among the whole team. People are trusted with good and bad news – even the sensitive ones. This includes salaries, sales data, targets and budgets. When everyone has access to all of the information and at the same time, it ensures that everyone is capable of making a decision based on the most accurate data available. Problems and tough times should not be hidden, but to keep everyone on the same page about realities and on the search for the solution. Transparency generates a foundation for distributed authority and collective intelligence.

Central Park Mall (Sydney, Australia)

A bar can’t just get rid of the hierarchy pyramid and expect everything to work. You have to grow a system of distributed authority to replace the old backbone of the company. Anyone who senses a problem or an opportunity for improvement can step up and initiate a decision making process called The Advice Process. I will go through the process more specifically in a separate post but essentially, anyone in the team can initiate the process as long as they follow two conditions. First, they have to seek advice from the people with expertise on the particular matter. Second, they have to involve everyone who is affected by the decision to be part of the process.

Using methods that are based on this type of collective intelligence are fundamental parts of the natural structures and spontaneous groupings that enables the symbiosis as a model to function properly. Depending on the season, the need for the function (such as a menu change or stock take) or the urgency of handling an unexpected problem, the bar can self-organize their team in order to deal with the task in hand. After the project is done, the team naturally adjusts to the ebb and flow.

In a complex ever changing world, being adaptive, and being allowed to be adaptive, ensures the bar and it’s staff will find a way to thrive – no matter what..

PS. Shout out to Nordic Ice Company for being adaptive and changing the way we use ice in bars!

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Mika Ammunét Written by:

Bar Manager, Future Bar Owner

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