April 30, 2020

Lean Coffee (100th Episode of Agile.FM)

In my 100th episode of Agile.FM,  I had the opportunity to speak with Jim Benson, the co-creator of Lean Coffee.  I started off by asking Jim why Lean Coffee did not become an “official” Liberating Structures (the 34th!) as it could have in my opinion. Apparently, Keith McCandless (co-author of Liberating Structures) bumped into Jim Benson at a local Costco and confessed that the Lean Coffee technique would have been a good addition to the Liberating Structures book, too.

Lean Coffee Poster
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Lean Coffee is powerful technique, for example I am frequently using it in retrospectives, conferences, meet-up’s, classrooms and of course with clients.  It is easy to set-up, in-person or virtually and provides a forum for groups to engage, collaborate and to build on the ideas of others. In this podcast episode Jim also mentioned how Lean Coffee found its way into 1:1’s for example even in hierarchical relationships between supervisors and subordinates. He also mentioned an application of Lean Coffee in group therapy. The application seems limitless if you listen to the feedback Jim is receiving from people around world.

In another example, Jim demonstrates how infectious Lean Coffee can be when he used this technique at Comcast a while ago. Initially hesitant, with a handful of people in the room, it took only a few days of Lean Coffee until the room was packed and standing space in the hallways became scarce. The level of engagement with Lean Coffee is high, diversity of topics and audience possibly endless and most importantly the topics are relevant to the people in the room. There is no hidden agenda, only a prioritized one.

I myself had a similar experience when working with a client, when I introduced the technique for the very first time.  I even used the another Liberating Structure (25/10) to quickly build out the agenda items. Once we came to the voting part, if the topic should continue or not,  you can read the room and sense the culture you are in. How empowered do people feel to vote on the items on the agenda? In the past they might have felt that meetings were boring, but now they are sharing the content themselves. Being so open about voting on items is often a new experience. This kind of empowerment is exactly the a-ha moment when attendees are getting hungry ( or in the case of Lean Coffee “thirsty?”) for more. 

Check out this Lean Coffee in 5 Minutes video below.