Leadership Lessons Learned from a Corporate Barista

Blogger’s Note:  I wrote this post for Solution Tree’s All Things PLC blog.  Thought you might dig it too.  Hope I’m right!


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.


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2 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons Learned from a Corporate Barista

  1. Mike (@mikekaechele)

    Great example, Bill. I think culture in schools is very underrated. Our school is blessed to have an extended group planning time. I often “waste” time hanging out with colleagues. We have great conversations about pedagogy and all kinds of things. We also dream up some of our best project ideas and use lots of collaboration between classes. I wish everyone had more planning time as I think it makes a huge difference.

    The other thing we do is go to a local restaurant to hang out one Friday a month. That is an important social time for us. I also think this same thing is important to do with students. Sometimes we need to let our hair down, throw out the curriculum and have fun with students.


    Great, excellent post Bill. I’m wondering how we can do this in a middle school? The success from this Evernote HQ story seems to come from (1) the unstructured nature of seeing different coworkers each time you work in the coffee shop and (2) not feeling forced to be at a meeting or weekly update. How would this look in a school?


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