A Lean Coffee is a semi formal* meeting in which participants choose the topics they want to discuss, vote for the topics and then discuss the most voted topics during a limited time period. At the end of the ‘timebox’, the group decides to continue or switch to the next if they feel they got enough.
*by semi formal I mean the meeting is structured, but either agenda-less or very flexible about contents.
Lean coffee start is credited to Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith back in 2009 in Seattle.
Advantages of a Lean coffee
Traditional meetings are moderated in ‘push mode’: the organizer sets up an agenda and invites participants. Those may have different interests in attending the meeting, ranging from very high to almost none. Nevertheless it is often difficult to avoid attending even if interest is low and there is seldom a way to influence the content as an attendee.
In Lean coffees, the moderator ‘pulls’ the topics from the attendees, which gives everyone an opportunity to have his/her point of interest discussed. If a proposed topic does not get many votes, the attendance may not be the suitable one or the topic is indeed of no interest.
Another specific meeting may be organized or the topic left off the list.
Pulling the topics from the attendees is also a way to show respect and fight the eighth muda. Jim Benson states “When we invite people to meetings and give them a strong agenda up front, we are completely robbing ourselves of the wisdom the attendees would bring with.”
In other words, Lean coffees trades passive listeners for active resources and knowledge sources. Attendees are not supposed to leave their brains at the door but bring them in and use them.
Lean coffees are time-boxed, which forces to keep focus on the subject. The participants get a feeling of greater intensity and effectiveness compared to traditional meetings.
Here is a selection of videos about Lean coffee.