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All-Hands = All-Hell

The destructive power of misapplied “teamwork”

Teamwork is a real thing, but it only exists when there are clear, well-understood teammate roles, and everyone knows their own. As a metaphor, we offer the image of children playing soccer (wherein everyone chases the ball all the time) vs. the target image of how professionals play (spread the field, pass the ball, execute the play).

When we ask service industry operators how something works, we listen for key words to identify the presence of an unstable or unreliable process. Most of the time these words end in “-ly,” such as usually, probably, actually, etc.

Digging deeper into whom is responsible for what work, another clear indicator of disfunction often stated is, “everyone helps out,” or more simply, “it’s teamwork.” For example: Q: “Who is responsible for bussing the outdoor tables?” A: “It’s the busser’s job, but they are usually inside when the tables clear, so we leverage our culture of teamwork.” These types of words should ring alarm bells in the mind of any coach.

In our experience, “all-hands” most often equates to “all-hell.”

We’ve been working with a national, high-volume restaurant company to create capacity to eliminate the need for throttling online orders. Recently, we wrapped up a data collection project during a peak period. Leveraging our baseline data, we have been reorganizing stations, reorganizing work, and clarifying roles.

Hours ago, we completed a collection of follow-up data in one of the portfolio’s highest volume restaurants on the peak period of the week, and the quantitative results were impressive. EVEN BETTER results were present in the qualitative data: food hitting tables with steam still rising, smiling and joking on the make line (THE MAKE LINE AT PEAK!), servers were cheering on the cooks, and the cooks were cheering on the prep / bussing team. With newfound capacity, one of the team members took drink orders for the hard-working cooks and served them.

Just a few weeks earlier, this kitchen was in the weeds – like almost every other busy restaurant at peak – and everyone was “helping” everyone. This created traffic jams, miscommunication, waiting, needless motion, spills, re-fires, and every other nasty thing that you can imagine. A culture of teamwork is always desirable, but in many cases, real teamwork is not an option.

Now, the divide between Front of House and Back of House has been bridged, and the restaurant functions as a system – a team. It is counterintuitive, but by separating people’s roles and responsibilities, we can bring them together as people and engage their full humanity. It allows us to develop skills more quickly and reduces the cost of switching between different types of activity.

If you’re interested in hearing more about this case study, please email us at

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