The concept of Lean Coffee originated in Seattle in 2009. The concept is kind of like Open Space: a group of people gather and have a structured, yet agenda-less meeting.
At Stride, we’ve adopted and adapted the concept of Lean Coffee. The idea was born out of our desire to get together in frequent intervals for short, effective discussions. We knew we didn’t want the time to be PowerPoint driven, and we also didn’t want it to be all about one, or a handful of people doing all the talking. What we were seeking was a way for any individual in the entire company to be heard. Here’s a peek into Lean Coffee at Stride:
8:45-9:00am Arrival and Breakfast
We grab coffee, fruit, bagels, and yogurt, and settle into our seats.
9:00-9:15 Monthly Huddle
One or two members of our leadership team give a quick update on the goings-on at Stride. We share updates on strategic initiatives, welcome new employees, and give shout outs for any promotions.
9:15-9:20 Topic Ideation
Here, we are seeking topic ideas to debate. Good topic ideas are ones impacting the entire organization. Topic ideas should also be issues or opportunities that could use some meaty debate and back and forth. For example, “We should all get keys to the new office” isn’t a great topic if we can say “Yes” in five seconds. It is a good topic if the answer isn’t clear and the situation is complicated.
Each Strider gets a marker and a stack of 8in x 6in post-it notes.
Pro Tip: The 8in x 6in post-it notes are key. They are big enough to give space to write on so people can see. Don’t use the 3x5 ones, they are too small.
Anyone with an idea writes one idea per post-it note (write it big enough soit can be seen from the back of the room), walks up to the front of the room, reads the post-it out loud, gives a one or two sentence explanation of the topic, and adds it to the whiteboard.
Once all ideas are on the whiteboard, it’s time to vote. Each Strider gets a marker. We each get three votes and votes can be stacked or split. So, if I am really passionate about topic A, I can give it all three of my votes. Or, I can give one vote to topic A, one to topic B, and one vote to topic C.
Pro-tip: It’s tough to get a room full of 50+ people to vote in five minutes, so be sure to move folks along.
9:25-9:55 Discuss and Debate One Topic
The topic with the most votes wins. If there’s a tie, either have a two minute debate to try and agree on the winner, or have one person pick the winner. Remove all post-it notes from the whiteboard.
Choose one facilitator. The facilitator writes on the whiteboard “Problem Statement.”
The group agrees on the problem statement and the facilitator writes it on the whiteboard.
For the winning topic, frame the problem statement. For example, at the last Lean Coffee, the winning topic was, “Professional development time.” We turned that into the problem statement, “What qualifies as professional development?” This is distinctly different from other problem statements we could have agreed upon like, “How much professional development time should we each get?” or “How do we track professional development time?”
Pro-tip: It’s really hard to get a big group to agree on framing the problem statement. The more often you do it, the better you’ll get. For the first few Lean Coffees, appoint one person to be in charge of identifying the problem statement if the group can’t quickly come to agreement. After you’ve done it a few times you’ll find the group will get better at identifying a nice problem statement.
The facilitator should seed the conversation with questions. In our scenario above:
Problem Statement: “What qualifies as professional development?”
Possible questions: What’s the current problem? Is there something unclear with our current policy? Who currently decides what qualifies?
The entire company then discusses and debates the topic.
It’s the facilitator’s role to encourage healthy debate and capture what the group is saying on the whiteboard.
As action items arise, write those down.
The goal of the 30 minute discussion isn’t to solve the issue. The goal is to have a small set of action items, each with one or two owners by the end of the 30 minutes.
As the 30 minutes comes to a close, have one person volunteer to own moving the issue forward. That person takes a picture of the whiteboard and is accountable for giving an update to the entire company at the next Lean Coffee or via email. That person doesn’t have to be named on all or even any of the action items identified, but often the owner of moving the issue forward is also assigned to at least one of the action items.
9:55-10am Fist of Fives
In closing, have the entire company do fist of fives. Count to three and at the same time, each person holds up one fist. Each person rates the meeting 1-5; one is the worst, five is the best. The facilitator calls on one or two people who rated the meeting less than a five and gives those people a few seconds to state why. Then the meeting wraps up.
We’ve been holding monthly Lean Coffee’s at Stride for about a year now. At first, it was terrifying. What were people going to say? How was this going to work? As we got bigger, were we too big to continue? I can say it’s one of my favorite things about Stride. I absolutely love seeing so much passion and energy in one room, and hearing a diverse set of opinions on a shared topic. I highly recommend it!