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What is “CafeClutch” and What Does it Have to do With Taoti?

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“Cafeclutch” (or kafeeklatsch) is a German thing.  Traditionally, it’s a social gathering, often in the afternoon over coffee and pastries, where people gather to chat (gossip) casually.  Having lived in…
Brent Lightner 2

Brent Lightner

CEO | Founder
Brent started building websites out of a college dorm room in 1996. By 2000, he was running a full-fledge web design company and garnishing press from the likes of Der…

“Cafeclutch” (or kafeeklatsch) is a German thing.  Traditionally, it’s a social gathering, often in the afternoon over coffee and pastries, where people gather to chat (gossip) casually.  Having lived in Germany and being married to a German, I’ve been part of some bone fied cafeclutch sessions. So what does that have to do with Taoti?

Communicating with Employees Can Feel Like a Game of Telephone

When Taoti was just a handful of people operating out of my basement, we all knew each others’ business.  Face time with my few employees was easy (and frankly, unavoidable.)  I had direct relationships with everyone.  But as we’ve grown (we’re over 50 employees now), it’s become much harder to maintain those direct relationships with every employee.  So when my executive team and/or I make decisions or implement new ideas or polices, it sometimes catches some employees off guard, or perhaps they don’t understand some of the underlying issues that factored into the new directives (especially the more controversial ones.)  Communication sometimes felt like a game of telephone, with the messages taking on slightly different spins with each layer of management it passed through.  In short, I was losing touch with the very people that make Taoti what it is.

Coffee, Pastries, and Straight Talk

So I borrowed an idea that Dr. Karen Donfried of the German Marshall Fund had implemented: Once a week, she sits down with employees over coffee and pastries to discuss anything that anyone wants to discuss–business related or not.  My bi-weekly sessions consist of me and three employees–anyone but my executive team (because A: I have plenty of face time with them as it is, and B: I don’t want others to feel the pressure of having a manager in the group.)  It’s a safe space where I’m willing to explain and discuss corporate decisions, policies, strategies, or whatever, at a much more intimate and transparent way than would be productive to do in an all-hands staff meeting.  I try to get into the deeper-rooted philosophies that I’ve built Taoti around and explain why we do the things we do.  Invitations are done randomly so that there is no rhyme or reason as to how the small group is comprised.  No topic is off limits.  I use my “sorry, I can’t discuss that” card very, very sparingly and only when it would be an inappropriate invasion of another employee’s privacy.

The Best Hour of My Week

My cafeclutch sessions have become my favorite hour of the week.  I learn so much–not just ideas that come from employees, but also about what messaging does and doesn’t make it down to them through the ranks.  I’m often very surprised to learn that they don’t know the ‘why’ behind some of our executive committee decisions in a way that I just presumed was common knowledge (and I’m a big believer in making sure everyone understands the ‘why’ behind everything we do.)  At a macro level, I’ve taken to heart the need to do a better job of communicating throughout the company.  And at the individual session level, I’ve received loads of good ideas about everything from corporate strategies to HR policies.  Perhaps the best part is that I get to speak freely and know that my team hears things straight from the horse’s mouth.  Likewise, I get their direct, unfiltered feedback and suggestions as well as the pulse of the team.  The only problem with cafeclutch is that I wish some of the discussions we get into could be shared beyond the three other people in our group!

Putting CafeClutch Online

That’s where this blog comes into play!  To further leverage my invaluable cafeclutch sessions, I’ve decided to post the crux of some of the most relevant discussions on our blog.  These notes are really intended for Taotians, but they’re actually pretty telling in terms of Taoti’s philosophies, culture, and other things that would be useful to others to learn (including future Taotians and potential Taoti clients.)  So I figure, why not make them public and give the world a better understanding as to what what makes Taoti tick?  Stay tuned for my thoughts on what it’s like to run and grow a creative agency.  I’ll get into the good, the bad, and the ugly.  (And I won’t apologize for what I already know is an overly verbose writing style, as this is my space to speak freely, soundbites be damned!

I hope people find this blog useful.  And if not, maybe it just becomes a personal journal to help me formulate and evolve my own thoughts.  Either way, I welcome feedback and suggested topics for discussion.  You can email me or tweet them to me using #TaotiCafeClutch.

Keeping that Small Company Feel

As Taoti grows, it’s not always practical for me to make every company decision a group exercise like we used to do back in the “basement days.”  But my cafeclutch hour is easily one of the most useful meetings on my schedule and helps keep that small company feel, even as we grow.  I hope this blog will help extend the usefulness of that session for existing and future Taotians!

-b