Skip to content

Search the site

Amid terrible meetings, Lean Coffee gets a new lease of life

The renewed importance of collaboration in a hybrid world appears to be triggering something of a Lean Coffee renewal...

What is Lean Coffee?

It sounds counterintuitive but agenda-free meetings may be the answer to delivering innovation and getting things done at pace. (Sometimes you need to get people in a room – physical or digital – to get ideas flowing.)

The Lean Coffee approach takes this approach and The Stack’s conversations with digital leaders suggest that the method is having something of a resurgence. Driving that: A fresh approach to offices in a hybrid world that makes physical meetings more important, and the perennial challenge of cameras-off remote meetings with low participation.

(Yes, often these could have been an email.)

So, what is Lean Coffee?

What is Lean Coffee?

Lean Coffee uses a whiteboard, timers, and everyone in the room to surface ideas, set an agenda and work through it. The whiteboard is in three sections: 1) to discuss 2) discussing and 3) done. An initial five minutes is for brainstorming agenda items; added as sticky notes.

A quick vote on top priorities follows (typically by adding stickers to the agenda proposals) which then gets five minutes of discussion time, followed by a fresh vote on whether to keep discussing it or move on.

(For visual collaboration tools, there is a wealth to explore, from Miro to Google Jamboard; via FigJam, Microsoft Whiteboard and beyond.)

Does Lean Coffee work?

The Lean Coffee method was first published in 2009 by American life coaches Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith, Lean Coffee meetings work on the principle that if you contribute to setting a meeting's agenda, you are more likely to be invested and interactive in the meeting itself.

Anecdotal evidence from our conversations suggests that it is having a resurgence in the wake of the pandemic having set bad remote meeting precedents. (A Zippa study from 2022 found that companies typically dedicated 15% of all working time to meetings, and workers consider nearly 71% of all meetings unproductive; Runn, a resource management software firm extrapolated this data to state that American firms wasted a whooping $37 billion in wasted time and resources over meetings.)

With CTOs and CIOs looking for ways to improve efficiency and optimize work time for their teams- Lean Coffee may be one of the keys to streamlining work patterns and getting more agile with their operations.

Have you tried the approach and how did it work for you?

Let us know

See also: The battle for Agile’s soul