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7 reasons why your team will love Lean Coffee meetings

Clayton Lengel-Zigich
By Clayton Lengel-Zigich • June 6th, 2022

Here's why you should run your next team meeting (and the everything else) using the Lean Coffee format.

Team meeting with Coffee

You’ve probably heard of the Lean Coffee format. Whether it was at an conference or during a user group. The format was popularized in the Lean community and eventualy made its way to the mainstream Agile community. Its popularity is due to its simplicity and effectiveness.

Here are seven reasons why your team will love Lean Coffee meetings:

  1. It’s easy
  2. Improves your discussions
  3. Saves you time
  4. You can do it in person or virtually
  5. It’s very flexible
  6. Replace traditional, old, and boring meetings
  7. It’s fun
  8. Conclusion

It’s easy

It’s easy to run a Lean Coffee meeting. And even easier to participate in one.

You only need a few basic tools, a reasonably sized space, and a few people to generate topics. You don’t need special training, a certain group size, or extensive planning.

Lean Coffee meetings can be organized on short notice and go well regardless of who attends. They can be run in-person, virtually, or with a mix of in-person and remote participants.

Improves your discussions

One of the best features of Lean Coffee is its simple yet effective structure.

Better meeting agendas

Many meetings have rigid and inflexible agendas that are the result of one person deciding what they want to talk about. Unlike traditional meetings where the facilitator sets the agenda before the meeting starts, Lean Coffee allows the group to generate an agenda in real-time.

This means the agenda is more relevant to the gathered group, more up-to-date based on events leading up to the meeting, and more aligned with how the group is thinking and feeling at the time of the meeting.

More balanced discussions

In traditional meetings, everyone focuses on making their own points and talking about the topics they care most about. This often leads to a small group of participants dominating the discussion on a few topics.

But with Lean Coffee, discussion time for topics is limited, and the entire group gets to vote not only on the importance of each topic, but also how long to discuss each topic.

Because the entire group gets to vote on these important aspects of the meeting, it’s almost impossible for one or two people to control the discussion of the meeting. The group discusses more topics and everyone has a say.

Saves you time

How many team meetings start with “okay, let’s give everyone a few more minutes?” How many have any form of agenda to keep the meeting on track? And how many end with “I know we’re over time, but…?”

Most meetings!

But with the format of Lean Coffee, you can easily make the most of your time together.

  • Start meetings with whoever’s present, and others can join as they arrive.
  • The agenda builds itself, so there’s always clarity around what’s being discussed.
  • The meeting often ends early as the group discusses what’s essential and ignores what’s not.

One team reported that after switching to flowtopic, their usually-over-an-hour departmental monthly meeting shrunk down to 45 minutes. That 15-20 minutes adds up across 20 people!

You can do it in person or virtually

Running in-person Lean Coffee meetings

Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith designed Lean Coffee to be run as an in-person event, so it’s already well suited for the task. You only need a few materials, like a timer, markers, and stickie notes.

Then you can find a location suitable for the size of your group (like a conference room) and run the meeting as you normally would.

If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at our how to run a Lean Coffee meeting guide.

Running a virtual Lean Coffee

As teams have gone remote (due to COVID-19 or changes in the business landscape) the need to run virtual or hybrid meetings has increased.

With a virtual lean coffee app like flowtopic, it’s easy to run meetings with remote team members. You can make use of your existing video conferencing software to see and hear everyone, but then run the meeting like you normally would.

Review our full guide for how to run a virtual lean coffee meeting.

It’s very flexible

Another reason you’ll love lean coffee is its flexibility. Group size, meeting length, and meeting theme are all variables which can affect the flow of a meeting. But with Lean Coffee, you can easily adjust the meeting as needed to account for variations.

Group size

You really only need two people to run a Lean Coffee meeting. Although, more is better. And occasionally you have too large of a group.

When your group is small, consider adding more time for generating topics. You want to get as many topics as possible out of your small group. Also consider giving people more votes. This can help increase the number of topics to discuss.

When your group is too large, consider splitting into smaller groups. If that’s not possible, restrict the time allowed for generating topics. Also consider reducing the number of votes.

Meeting length

Only have 30 minutes and need to make the most of the time with your team? Consider this accelerated timeline for your next Lean Coffee meeting:

  • 5 minutes of generating topics
  • 1 minute to vote on topics
  • 24 minutes to discuss topics
    • Initial timer of 2 minutes per topic
    • Add 1 minute each time the facilitator extends a topic

Meeting theme

Discussing something more serious with your team? You’ll probably want to spend more time overall, and allow participants more time to generate topics. Retrospectives are a great example of a deeper, more serious discussion you might have during a Lean Coffee.

Alternatively, you can easily use Lean Coffee to plan a team building off-site or even use it to get to know new team members as they onboard.

Replace traditional, old, and boring meetings

Once you start using Lean Coffee, you’ll understand how much better it makes your meetings. You’ll even be tempted to replace some of your existing meetings with Lean Coffee meetings. Pretty soon, you’ll be running all of your meetings using the Lean Coffee format.

Here are a few types of meetings that are even better with Lean Coffee:

One-on-one meetings

Whether you’re the manager or the direct report, one-on-one meetings can be painful. Either it seems like there’s nothing to talk about, or one person dominates the entire conversation. With Lean Coffee, you get more balanced one-on-ones and never waste time by filling up the meeting with stuff that doesn’t matter.

Introducing new team members

Rather than onboarding a new team member with an awkward Q & A session, run your next “get to know the new hire” meeting as a Lean Coffee. You’ll get more interesting questions, have far more interaction, and in the end build stronger relationships on your team.

Recurring “sync” meetings

Many teams meet weekly or monthly to “sync” up on current initiatives, status of the business, departmental goals, and otherwise share information. And often times these meetings are one-sided. The leader or manager spends 90% of the time talking at the team, and 10% of the time rushing through questions at the end.

But if you run these with Lean Coffee, you’ll get all the important topics “on the table” and everyone involved will get far more value out of the meeting.

It’s fun

Attending a Lean Coffee is fun. Especially compared to your average meeting.

It’s fun having the freedom to generate exciting topics. Everyone enjoys voting on which topics they want to discuss. Participants often have a hard time voting because there are too many good topics. And as you run more Lean Coffee meetings with your team, the discussions become more lively and engaging.

Ultimately, it’s an example of “time flys when you’re having fun.” Because everyone is more involved and engaged, the meetings don’t feel like a drag, and people look forward to attending them.

Conclusion

Lean Coffee is a fantastic format for team meetings, user groups, brainstorming sessions, and much more. The next time you’re considering running a meeting, don’t forget the following about Lean Coffee:

  1. It’s easy to run
  2. You’ll have better discussions
  3. It will save you (and your team) time
  4. You can run them in-person or virtually
  5. It’s a flexible format
  6. Replaces traditional meeting formats
  7. It’s fun to do

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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