Lean Coffee – the Caffeine Kick for your Meetings

Mornings, 9:30 am in Germany. A friendly regard from colleagues, a delicious Cappuccino and a waffle square filled with milk cream, chocolate and hazelnuts. Splendid – I’m there!

Morning, 9:30 am in Germany. For most of the people in the offices between Flensburg and Füssen, this usually means regular communication, status meeting or coordination appointments. In the best case, there is an agenda that should give the meeting some structure – probably determined by someone else, but better than nothing. In the worst case, there is no agenda, the participants show up unprepared and many don’t arrive until minutes after the door has been closed.

If this is the reality, then why not just deal with it? Why not give the meetings a structure, an agenda, at the moment it is needed? It’s a start! Lean Coffee offers an excellent format for this: Simple, pragmatic and effective. Mornings at 9:30 am, afternoons at 4 pm, late in the evening, early in the morning and any time in-between.

What you Need for an Effective Chat over Coffee

For a meeting in Lean Coffee Format, you need Post-its, pens and some participants. First, three columns are laid out on the table. To the left “Issues”, in the middle “To Discuss” and to the right “Completed”. The external structure is ready. In the next paragraph, you will see how this can go even better.

In the second step, those who are present get five minutes to write down their issues that should be discussed at this meeting. After five minutes, these topics are placed in the “Issues” column and clustered according to content. Then everyone votes. Each person gets five votes and places these dots on the issue cluster (also known as a Dot Vote). According to the number of points, the “Issues” column is prioritized.

Discussion within a Timebox

The most important topic is moved into the column “To Discuss” and is discussed. To keep the discussion short, fixed timeframes are used. The first round lasts eight minutes. After the eight minutes are up, the facilitator stops the discussion and asks if more time is needed. Those present decide by a majority vote – thumbs up or thumbs down (also known as a Roman Vote). If the majority indicates thumbs down, the discussion on that topic is done and the Post-It moves into the “Completed” column. If the majority show a thumbs up, four additional minutes are given. After four minutes, this process is repeated and an additional two minutes, one minute and…I hope for your sake that the discussion is ended.

The interruption of the discussion after the Timebox has expired is the critical moment of the meeting in the Lean Coffee Format. If those present do not respect the Timebox, continue talking, want to make one last point, then this format loses its power and its effectiveness. These few seconds of self-discipline are the sensitive moments that decide whether Lean Coffee will be successful in your team or if things will continue as they were.

Personally, I find the Lean Coffee format super! It gets really useful if two additional columns are added: “Aha Effect” and “To Do”. These two columns are spaced a little further right from the “Completed” column. In the “Aha Effect” column come the new insights, inspirations and new perspectives that arise during the discussion. And if tasks arise, they find their place in the “To Do” column.

One Format that Covers Everything

At first glance, it is already a fantastic format. If you look a little deeper, though, its true beauty is revealed. All participants are heard, hierarchy is removed, contributions come equally from extroverts and introverts, it doesn’t matter if the person is junior to the company or has years of experience, and people who speak loudly have no advantage over those who speak more quietly. The only thing that matters is the quality and relevance of the contribution while giving the team a big dose of self-organization and democracy. At the same time, managers (lateral and functional) can also add issues that are important to them. The column “To Discuss” helps keep the focus. The current topic is transparent and understandable, whereby discussion that digress can be easily identified. And at the end of the meeting, everything can be quickly protocolled with a photo. Try out the free application from Microsoft, Office Lens, for this. This application automatically edits the picture for optimal readability and crops it accordingly.

P.S.: Let us know how Lean Coffee works for you. For the first five posts on the borisgloger accounts on Facebook or Twitter, or an Email with a picture of your Lean Coffee, there will be a little surprise along with these waffle squares with milk cream, chocolate and hazelnuts.


Written by

Matthias Rodewald Matthias Rodewald


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