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Better discussion meetings with Lean Coffee

A magical meeting format that everyone should experiment with.

I see the same two problems over and over with discussion meetings:

  • The group spends the whole time talking about just one or two topics, leaving lots of important stuff untouched
  • The group talks about whatever got brought up first instead of what is most important

Lean Coffee is a meeting format that fixes both of those, because:

  • Someone runs a per-topic timer to prevent lingering on the same topic for too long
  • The group builds the agenda democratically so the most important stuff gets talked about first

It’s been like magic for many of the meetings I attend.


Here’s how to run a Lean Coffee:

Step 1: Create a kanban board (I like using FunRetro, but anything that allows voting will work) with 4 columns:

  • To Discuss
  • Discussing
  • Discussed
  • Action Items

Step 2: Give everyone 5 minutes to add topics to “To Discuss” and to vote on them. Any topic is fine as long as it’s related to the purpose of the meeting. Everyone gets the same number of votes (usually 3 to 10), but voting multiple times on the same topic is allowed.

Step 3: Pick the topic with the most votes, drag it to “Discussing”, and start a 5 minute timer to talk about it.

Step 4: Once the timer runs out, if the majority of people want to keep talking about it, add a couple minutes and repeat. If not, capture any todos in the “Action Items” column and move the topic to the “Discussed” column.

Step 5: Keep repeating steps 3, 4, and 5 until the meeting time ends.

Try it out and I bet you’ll be amazed at the quality of the discussion it generates. Pitch it as an experiment to your team!


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