Digital Garden of Paul

Running a Lean coffee

From Psychological Safety 93 (newsletter).

Lean Coffee is really easy to facilitate and is one of my favourite ways of running psychologically safe, agenda-less, engaging meetings with almost any number of attendees. The "agenda" is created in the meeting itself, by the attendees. Every step of a Lean Coffee meeting is time-boxed, with the option to extend as necessary. This maintains the "Lean" aspect, by ensuring that the meeting doesn't derail, or dive too deep into a topic. Lean Coffee sessions require a chair or facilitator who simply manages timing and may introduce topics or record actions. Here's a basic template to run your own Lean Coffee sessions.

The essential Lean Coffee steps are below:

Introduce the practice to all the attendees and confirm who is going to act as chair for the session.

Gather all the possible topics. Ask everyone to come up with topics they'd like to discuss. If the meeting is about a particular theme (e.g. psychological safety), these are likely to be aspects of that theme, but it could be wide open, with any topic up for discussion (which can be an effective team meeting practice). You can gather the ideas in advance, or at the start of the meeting, setting a time limit of 3-5 minutes. You may wish to ensure the creator of the topic remains anonymous, or it might not be a concern. There probably won't be time to discuss every topic, so the next step is important.

Aggregate and remove duplicate topics. A time limit of a couple of minutes would be appropriate.

Prioritise the topics for discussion. Applying the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule, that 80% of the value is in 20% of the work), we want to collectively surface the most important topics. We do this via voting: each attendee has a limited number of votes (usually 3-5), and places votes on the topics they feel are most important to discuss. They may spend all their votes on a single topic if they wish to. A short time limit, of a minute or two, is probably best here. Then order the topics from most-voted to least-voted.

Discussion time! Set a timer of 3-5 minutes and begin discussing the most voted-for topic. You may ask for the person who wrote the topic to introduce it, or have the chair do so. When the timer is up, take a quick thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote whether or not to continue on the topic. If the consensus is to continue, reset the timer and continue the process until the consensus is to move on to the next one.

Consider having someone record minutes or actions, depending on the aim of the meeting. Alternatively you might invite people to make their own notes.

Wrap up! Allow a few minutes at the end of the meeting for a wrap-up, or even a mini retrospective on the meeting, so that it can be even better next time.

Running a Lean coffee