The superpower of coffee (and it’s not just the caffeine…)
The coffee bean has had a surprising impact on the way we do business. Aside from its life as a tradeable commodity, it has also had major effect on the way that commerce operates. More importantly it can support us in our business relationships 1-1 and in our personal leadership effectiveness.
In the UK in the seventeenth century coffeehouses were the place to go and do business. A range of acceptable social norms grew and developed around how deals were conducted within their environs, and each coffeehouse built up its own individual culture based on how the individuals who frequented it behaved.
The legendary insurance house Lloyd’s of London grew out of Lloyd’s Coffee House – the clientele was mainly sailors, merchants and ship-owners and the owner Edward Lloyd provided them with reliable shipping news, leading it to become a centre where insurance deals were brokered. The coffeehouses of Exchange Alley in the heart of the City of London, particularly Jonathan's and Garraway's, became places known for the dealing in shares. Stockbrokers banned from the Royal Exchange, where tangible goods were traded, used these coffeehouses as the base from which the London Stock Exchange grew.
Today coffee is the most globally ubiquitous drink we have – with over 2 billion cups drunk every day. As such it has become part of our day-to-day interactions with colleagues, clients and those we engage with in whatever capacity. More than simply a social practice however, coffee can provide us with a powerful tool that helps us build the foundations on which our organisations can thrive:
Informalising the painfully formal
While formal communications between departments can help understanding, there is nothing more powerful in building relationships across an organisation than sitting down with someone to just chat about your worlds and how they relate to each other. The informal environment of ‘a coffee’ changes the dynamic of the conversation and takes what is otherwise painfully formal and changes it into a great conversation. When we build our knowledge-sharing programmes across our organisations, what question should our strategy start with? “Can we chat over coffee?”
Getting stuff done
When we sit down to achieve something with someone else, we do this best when we do it in a relaxed manner, but with a strong focus. Stepping away from the desk or the meeting room to sit in the coffee shop means that we are able to build effective actions. Removed from the distractions of all the other tasks we have to get done; entering a conversation with a shared understanding that we are here with clear parameters; creating a more open interaction where we can relax into problem solving and exploring options: what should the first action of any project team be? “Let’s get coffee.”
Reciprocity is a huge part of building a positive trust relationship. Often small signals that indicate that you value the input and engagement of someone else have massive value in the process of building a sincere and heartfelt relationship – what’s the small signal that we can call on to show our appreciation of someone’s worth? “I’ll buy the coffee.”
We often need to do something to break the stalemate between two or three parts of an organisation. Having a coffee is a great way to start the dialogue, particularly if you take coffee ‘out’. Starbucks must be responsible for so many improved business relationships and if it charged by outcome of conversation it would be a replacement for the UN. So when we need to break down a silo do it over coffee.
And for those of us who don’t find coffee appeals to us, here’s the good news – whatever your tastes run to, the social dynamic and outcomes are the same. Anyone want to join me for a bubble tea?