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Lean coffee is an incredible format. It’s a simple yet powerful way to discuss important topics in a team without any upfront costs. Yet, this format is surprisingly often unknown to the people I work with.

What is a lean coffee?

Let’s have a look at the official definition:

Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated. https://leancoffee.org/.

Why is the lean coffee a powerful format?

The lean coffee is a vital tool in my toolbox. Its format touches upon some aspects I find essential in having fruitful discussions:

  • Relevancy; The topic to be discussed is relevant to the people involved, guaranteeing more involvement.
  • Time-boxed; The topic discussions are time-boxed with 5-minute check-ups to understand whether the majority still wants to continue or move to the next topic.
  • Decentralized; The decentralized character (up to 10 people) stimulates deeper conversations.
  • Actionable; The fruit of the discussions is reaped by creating action points with concrete owners.

The challenge of a lean coffee

The most challenging part of the lean coffee format is the facilitation. You need a facilitator to keep an eye on the clock and support the ongoing discussions. In small teams, there’s most likely always someone able to facilitate. However, the lean coffee format works best for up to ten people. If a group of people exceeds this number, there’s a need for decentralization. As a result, you will need more facilitators.

Split and merge

When facilitating a 1-hour lean coffee session for around thirty people, you can create three groups of ten people. Let each group follow the lean coffee format for approximately 45 minutes and then have a central merge for another 15 minutes. In these last 15 minutes, each group can spend 5 minutes going through their topics, highlights, and action points that were distilled from the discussions. A central merge guarantees that all the people are up-to-date, even though they were not in the other groups!

Cheat sheet

I’ve created a lean coffee "cheat sheet" to facilitate the facilitators. It contains step-by-step instructions on how to host a lean coffee that you can follow to the t. Ideally, you get the entire organization into a mindset where everyone can facilitate the lean coffee. In addition, as the format is relatively simple, having a cheat sheet can inspire more people to become facilitators of this beautiful discussion format!

Download the cheat sheet here


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