lean coffee retrospective

What's a Lean Coffee, and where do I get one?

Reading time: about 5 min

Virtual and hybrid work environments have forced many businesses to become more adaptable in the way meetings are conducted. Using technology in innovative ways is essentially a requirement now for many companies. But while the tools we use to come together to brainstorm and work collaboratively have become more advanced, the format and functionality of meetings are often still lacking. 

Poor organization, never-ending discussions, or a simple lack of engagement from team members are still common snags for most meetings, whether virtual or in-person. That's why many organizations are turning to a powerful meeting technique that utilizes team members' skills and gives them each a voice: Lean Coffee. 

What is a Lean Coffee meeting?

Lean Coffee is a meeting technique developed in 2009 to be conducted, as one might already have guessed, in coffee shops, but the simple yet effective format is perfect for any meeting environment with its stripped-down structure. 

In a nutshell, the Lean Coffee process can be summed up as: 

  • Brainstorm topics as individuals
  • Vote on proposed topics as a group
  • Discuss
  • Assign next steps


Before the meeting begins, a facilitator creates four columns indicated by sticky notes or on a whiteboard. Or you can use the Lucidspark Lean Coffee retrospective template. These columns are labeled "To Discuss," "Discussing," "Done Discussing," and "Actions or Next Steps."

lean coffee retrospective
Lean coffee retrospective template (click to modify online)

When the meeting begins, a timer is set for a brainstorming session and each team member is asked to contribute topics they'd like to discuss. At the end of the brainstorming session, the facilitator collects all proposed topics, and the collective group votes on which they'd like to talk about. 

A timer is set for another finite period of time, say 10 minutes, as each of the chosen topics is discussed one at a time by the group. Once the allotted time on a specific topic is complete, team members are asked to vote on whether to move on to a new topic or continue the discussion. 

When a topic's dialogue is complete, it's moved from the "Discussing" column to the "Done Discussing" column. As the total collection of topics is completed, the following steps and actions are determined based on the outcome of each discussion. 

Benefits of Lean Coffee

Lean Coffee is an effective meeting format because team members are encouraged to consistently drive the relevance of the topics and group discussion. We're all familiar with meetings where the facilitator or one group member dominates the discussion or some team members weren't given a chance to contribute. The Lean Coffee format solves those pain points. 

The easy-to-use process increases the level of engagement from team members. With the entire group engaged and participating in each step of the meeting setup, from creating topics and then voting on the most relevant, the Lean Coffee format also encourages increased urgency in the discussion. 

While a single topic or individual can often dominate meetings, Lean Coffee's process of group voting empowers the collective team. This method also ensures that issues discussed in the meeting are relevant to the audience in the room.

Lean Coffee can also be beneficial for facilitators. It can be an efficient and practical method of meeting without requiring much preparation or even a set agenda. The only thing required is an organizer who is comfortable with the techniques and can guide the group through the process. 

Use cases of Lean Coffee

Lean Coffee is not only a simple method to teach and implement but is also a highly versatile process. It's commonly used in Agile environments though it can be applied to a host of settings. 

The process of group discussion and raising questions about possible next steps and improvements make Lean Coffee well-suited for a sprint retrospective—an opportunity for groups to focus on inspection and adaptation. 

Community of Practice, where a team works collaboratively to discover topics of interest, is also a prime usage of the Lean Coffee method. The shared facilitation roles within the Lean Coffee technique and application of innovations are typical goals found in Community of Practice settings. 

But of course, more common meeting settings such as brainstorming sessions, icebreaker and networking exercises, and more are all potential opportunities for Lean Coffee meetings. Even everyday staff meetings can utilize the format to effectively open up avenues of communication among team members.
 

How to hold a Lean Coffee meeting 

In-person Lean Coffee meetings can be held with limited supplies—a stack of sticky notes alone will suffice in a pinch. 

But as we know in the current state of organizational communication, hybrid meetings are happening on phones, tablets, and everywhere in between, which is where a virtual whiteboard like Lucidspark can come in handy. 

The process of holding a Lean Coffee meeting, whether in-person, virtual, or somewhere in between, has never been easier with Lucidspark’s Lean Coffee retrospective template

 

  1. Start the session. As a meeting facilitator, start a conference using Zoom or Microsoft Teams and begin a Lucidspark session.
  2. Collect ideas from the team. Use the timer in Lucidspark and encourage your team to add sticky notes to the "Topics" container.
  3. Vote on topics. When the session is complete, use the voting feature to allow your team to vote on the potential topics they are most eager to have discussed. 
  4. Discuss and engage. Team members can engage with sticky notes within the template in many ways, including adding emoji reactions. As each topic is discussed, move the sticky note to the "Discussing" container and then into "Done Discussing" once the conversation has moved to the next topic.
  5. Action and next steps. New sticky notes can then be added to determine what next steps the team can take based on the outcome of these discussions.

Other Lucidspark Lean Coffee templates include: 

Lean Coffee meetings enable team leaders to run effective meetings by engaging and empowering the skills and perspectives of team members. So grab your favorite drink and start collaborating with your team!

lean coffee retrospective

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Related posts:

How to run effective retrospective meetings

How to run a sprint retrospective

Pre-meeting tips: Setting up your board in Lucidspark

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