Writer’s Lean Coffee

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At one of my writer’s groups I tried something out you may want to try – a Lean Coffee. Here’s a quick rundown and what happens. You can read up on it above, but I’ll sum up my experiences here.

At its heart, Lean Coffees are self-organizing ways for teams of people to pool knowledge, get advice, and discuss important subjects. It comes from lean business practices, but you can re-purpose it for just about anything.

First, how you run a Lean Coffee (for writers, but you can do it for all sorts of things)

  1. Get a group of people interested in the same subject.
  2. Give them notecards or some other equivalent (or even an online spreadsheet). Have them write down 1-3 things they want to discuss.
  3. Once the questions to discuss are done, everyone gets three votes and votes on what they want to discuss. In my experience, people don’t vote for just their questions, because people bring up topics they hadn’t thought of.
  4. Rank the subjects in order of votes and pick the top one. If there’s more than one top subject by votes, pick one randomly.
  5. Discuss the subject as a group for five minutes. At the end, vote if people want to go on another five minutes. I usually go by majority vote unless it’s close.
  6. Take the next subject by vote count and continue.

Encourage people to take notes or have a designated note-taker if the group is part of a larger team.

I’ve run this a number of times for Agile groups, and it’s always been successful – though sometimes you have to do it two or three times in a row for a team to gel. So how did it go for a random group of writers?

Really good.

First, we had a number of good subjects of discussion. I think that’s because the group had a history of good discussions, often focused on specific subjects-of-the-month. We were primed for this.

Secondly, because we had a diverse group of people, the discussions covered a lot of ground. Different viewpoints created more valuable results – and more valuable questions.

Third, it really got people talking. The Lean Coffee encourages people to talk, and the “bite-sized” discussions made it easy to prompt people who might go silent, and if someone had nothing to say one subject they may the next.

Fourth, the Lean Coffee method encourages solid discussions. People bring up things that matter to them, then vote as a team on what’s important to everyone, and discussion follows. Real quickly you focus on high-value issues, while having a bit of surprise to shake you up and keep you from getting into a rut.

Fifth, it created real team bonding. We shared our concerns and our insights, we got to know each other, we figured solutions to shared problems. I felt like we all left as more of a team.

I am going to repeat this with my writers group, probably every few moths, and may try it in other groups. I also wonder if it’ll work at conventions . . .

So give it a try, and let me know what you find!

Steven Savage