As Portland has been going through another cataclysmic ice & snow storm – I’ve been spending my indoor time watching the first season of FX’s The Bear – about an award-winning chef who leaves his Michelin starred restaurant role to manage the family sandwich shop after his brother’s suicide.

In fact, The Bear seems to have the perfect RECIPE for organizational disaster:

  1. Start with a sudden change in leadership;
  2. Add financial peril;
  3. Mix in a challenging regulatory environment;
  4. Combine with a hardworking but undisciplined staff;
  5. Grind it all up with broken equipment and unworking systems.

(Just writing this makes me aware of how many cooking words could be used to describe workplace dysfunction)

A single scene in the first season was enough to raise my blood pressure permanently. A sudden increase in “to-go” orders causes the team to struggle to keep up. They lack role clarity, trust, a focus on shared results, any ability for productive conflict and in the end accountability. Finally, the episode ends with two characters quitting, one having a panic attack and another applying tape to an accidental stab wound on his posterior.

But we’ve all been there right?

When chaotic circumstances reign – everyone is at risk. 

So when everything in the environment is a mess – where should leaders and managers put their attention? People or Process?

In “The Bear”- the players choose the process over their people. The head chef – pushes the sous chef out of the way believing that he can bring order to chaos. The sous chef becomes territorial and refuses help from colleagues because “that’s what I was told to do.” Time after time, the characters double down on trying to get things done fast instead of getting them done well. In the process they spread blame, lose tempers, miscommunicate and some finally just give up.

Luckily – The Bear also offers insight into another approach to managing chaos. When chaotic moments lead to destructive behaviors on The Bear – people DO apologize. And these apologies come with improved self-awareness and the opportunity to build relationships.

One character admits that when push comes to shove,  they need control – the other realizes that when chaos reigns they need communication. And so they make a little space for the other.

In short, the only reason that characters on the Bear will make it to season 2 is because the realize two fundamental things:

  • Your team doesn’t manage stress the way YOU do.
  • A small amount of understanding others goes a long way.



So, how can you apply the lessons from The Bear on your own team?

Open up the opportunity for learning before the next chaotic cycle arrives.

Here’s an activity to try at your next team meeting or oner Teams or Slack. Invite each person on the team respond to these prompts and share their answers when they are finished.

  1. “When things get stressful I tend to…..”
  2. “When things get stressful I need…”
  3. “When things get stressful I react badly to….”
  4. “When things get stressful I react well when I see….”
  5. “Everyone makes mistakes. So if you need to apologize to me, here’s how you should approach it…”

A little understanding can go a long way.


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About the Author: Kate Cockrill

A little about me... I am a social scientist, facilitator, and professional coach. Through my business: Kate Cockrill Coaching, I support mission driven managers and directors with 1:1 career coaching, leadership coaching, team workshops, and retreat design. My clients include leaders in healthcare, education, research and social innovation.

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