Expresso shot: Beer-tap leadership

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

As part of the blog I’ll occasionally put up shorter posts (expresso shots) – on a topic that may be relevant but doesn’t need deep discussion. Like other posts, the purpose is to help entrepreneurs and CEOs build leadership skills and successfully scale their companies, but the advice is the type you might get over a quick coffee. I‘ll kick-off with the importance of the social side of leading a team. In the Aconex culture that eventually took many forms, but beer taps and Friday night drinks were always in the mix.

It started with a slab of VB (translation: “a 24-bottle case of Victoria Bitter beer”) and a pack of chips! At our very first grungy and sparsely furnished office, Amy, our office manager and first employee, organised inaugural Friday night drinks with cheap beer and chips. There were just three of us – Rob, Amy and me – but it kicked off a tradition that lasted and adapted across nearly 20 years and dozens of countries.

Within a year or so with we had created the role of honorary Beer Baron, charged with procurement and logistics for the Friday wind-down. Amy was the first Baroness, followed by an illustrious line of successors, their names inscribed on a permanent panel in the style of a local bowls club. This became one of the most respected and sought-after roles at Aconex, with full responsibility for making sure beer, wine, soft drinks and food were ready every Friday for a growing team. In our final Melbourne office, we managed to have a pair of beer taps installed. They immediately became the social focal point for the office at the end of each week.

Why did we make a big thing out of Friday night drinks? Aside from being a lot of fun, it helped improve communication and build the team culture as people got to know each other on a personal level. Cross-functional relationships were built as people interacted across different teams, or as interstate and overseas colleagues took advantage of a Friday night in Melbourne. It provided a natural point for town hall meetings which were often held just prior to Friday night drinks. And finally, it helped us make better decisions – we saw many examples of cross-functional problems being solved by people in this informal environment.

Maybe inevitably, we did have to set some boundaries. At one stage ‘beer o’clock’ was creeping to an earlier time each week, to the point where 3pm on Friday wasn’t too early for a beer. We set the start time at 5pm from that point on. We also had to ensure from an OH&S viewpoint that we had a qualified and responsible senior manager present each Friday night. Unfortunately, in a world where OH&S issues are becoming more prominent, many companies are restricting all alcohol at work, marking the death of Friday night drinks. That’s a real shame.

As Aconex expanded around the world, Friday night drinks (with or without alcohol depending on local laws and customs) became a key element of the culture, building strong bonds between staff and creating a fun work environment.

The takeaway expresso: Whether it’s Friday night beers, a midweek pizza order, or a kitchen foosball league, structure time to bring your people together socially. And make it a regular thing - weekly is ideal.