How to Run a Lean Coffee Meeting That’s Actually Productive on a Digital Whiteboard

How to Run a Lean Coffee Meeting That's Actually Productive on a Digital Whiteboard

It’s common knowledge that teams, particularly those remote or hybrid ones, must meet on a daily basis to stay up-to-date with the projects’ updates and progress. During these meetings, teams often develop new ideas and come up with topics that require further discussion and attention.

Team members may run ad-hoc sessions to discuss ideas raised during meetings, while others may jot down notes that become confusing over time. And even though everyone feels the need to address some of these ideas, the team is very hesitant to engage in another lengthy and unproductive discussion.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider running Lean Coffee sessions with your team. This format offers flexibility in terms of structure and dynamics, allowing each person to contribute and prioritize topics for discussion. Moreover, it is also an effective way to create action points and make much-needed decisions.

Read on to find out how to guide your team through agenda-less meetings on digital boards and give our tool a try!

What is a Lean Coffee Meeting

Lean Coffee Meetings are informal, agenda-less sessions that allow all participants set the tone of conversation on the go. The attendees first suggest topics they would like to talk about and then conduct a quick voting session to choose the final scope of discussion. This means that Lean Coffees have no meeting leader nor predetermined agenda but are tailored to the participants’ interests and needs.

The participants gather in small groups, ideally up to 10 team members, to discuss their chosen topics. Such Lean Coffee format ensures it’s not “yet another boring meeting” but an effective use of everyone’s time and an opportunity for introverted voices to be heard.

A brief overview of Lean Coffee Meetings benefits

Due to the rise of virtual and hybrid work environments, businesses became more adaptable in the way they conduct their meetings. Using innovative tools has become a necessity for many companies. However, while such tools allow Agile teams to run collaborative brainstorming sessions, the functionality and structure of meetings fall short.

Cumbersome organization, undefined discussion topics, and lack of engagement from team members are huge challenges. Fortunately, adopting the Lean Coffee format can help Agile teams begin talking about things that matter the most to them. Some of the benefits are as follows:

  • Meeting participants drive the relevance of the topics discussed

We’re all familiar with meetings that have so-called “steering committees”, i.e., a facilitator or team member who dominates the entire discussion and whose voice has the most clout. The structured but agenda-less meeting solves this pain point. During Lean Coffees, team members decide what topics they want to cover so that everyone takes an active part in the conversation and there’s no meeting leader “coming out in front of the ranks”.

  • Participants discuss democratically-generated topics within a set time limit

This meeting facilitation technique requires full engagement from all team members. The entire group is supposed to participate in each stage of the meeting, starting from writing down points they want to touch upon, to voting for their favorite topics, to actively discussing them. Incorporating a timing device also creates a sense of urgency during the discussion so the meeting is relatively quick and short but everyone has a chance to speak out their opinion about the same topic. Simultaneously, Lean Coffee reduces the need for additional meetings.

  • Meeting format is adjusted to all attendees

While certain topics or individuals may dominate the meeting, Lean Coffees can strengthen the sense of agreement and unity in the team. It’s actually the team members who choose the next topic for discussion so they’re the ones responsible to make it as productive and relevant to everybody as possible.

Best practices for hosting effective Lean Coffee sessions

Hosting a successful Lean Coffee requires much more than just following its basic format. To help you make the most of your next session, we’ve prepared a short list of good practices you can keep in mind.

  • Encourage the attendees. Online events of regular cadence are most effective when everyone in the group gets a chance to contribute. As a meeting facilitator, invite everyone to share their concepts and thoughts.
  • Listen actively. Whenever the attendees are sharing their opinions, make sure you take thorough notes and actively listen to them. Such an approach will help you understand their point of view but also signal to them that you value their input.
  • Stay open-minded. Treat Lean Coffees as an opportunity for a collaborative discussion. Be open to various perspectives and views, especially if they differ from your own.
  • Use the timer. To keep the discussion on track, set a timer for each topic. This ensures that each idea receives an equal amount of time to be properly discussed, prevents discussions from dragging on, and, in general, a shorter duration of your next Lean Coffee helps keep all participants engaged at the same level.
  • Prioritize topics. If you notice that there are a lot of topics to cover, prioritize the ones that are most pressing or relevant to the group. That way, you will spend time debating over the most critical issues at the time and will go through other topics during the next Lean Coffee.
  • Redirect digressions. Sometimes, discussions like to go off-topic, especially if there’s no specified meeting agenda. In such a scenario, redirect conversations back to the original topic by “throwing a virtual tomato” and make sure everyone stays focused.

Following these suggestions can help you run even more productive and effective Lean Coffee each time you meet with your attendees. By managing the time effectively, encouraging participation, and using great techniques to generate ideas and facilitate decision-making, you can rest assured that everyone leaves the meeting feeling heard, listened to, and satisfied with the outcome.

How to host a Lean Coffee Meeting on a digital whiteboard

Now, that you’ve become familiar with the Lean Coffee definition, benefits, and best practices, let us present to you how to run a Lean Coffee meeting on a digital whiteboard. Take any digital writing utensils, prepare your note cards, and sit comfortably (in your home office or favorite coffee shop); here’s how to use the Lean Coffee template in a few steps.

  1. Add the Lean Coffee template to your whiteboard.
Inserting the Lean Coffee template on the whiteboard

2. Invite a small group of participants to your virtual Lean Coffee session.

Inviting guests to the whiteboard

3. Encourage all meeting attendees to join the audio and video call. This feature will help you discuss all important topics in real time while also seeing familiar faces.

Joining the audio and video call

4. Use the Timer feature for each stage to make sure the session turns into a short but productive meeting. The suggested initial timebox for each stage of the Lean Coffee should be five minutes but you can extend these time blocks if needed.

Setting up the Timer

5. Start writing down ideas for discussion on sticky notes and place them in the Topics column. Let the attendees create as many topics as possible. Remember, however, to use one sticky note per idea.

Writing down topics to discuss

6. Choose the most important topics for a broader discussion by conducting a Voting session. Allocate each person three votes that they can cast to their favorite topics. Start the voting.

Conducting the Voting session

7. End the voting session once everyone’s ready. Move sticky notes that received two votes (and more) to the next column. Start the conversation and drag and drop appropriate sticky notes through these three columns: To Discuss, Discussing, and Discussed.

Moving the topics across the whiteboard

8. Create Action Points for your group by converting sticky notes into actionable Jira issues.

Converting sticky notes into Jira issues

Key takeaways

Virtual meetings, such as Lean Coffee, are a type of meeting format that enables all of the participants to discuss a variety of topics in a structured yet agenda-less and flexible manner. In this article, we have highlighted the key benefits of this popular meeting style.

Lean Coffee meetings can be highly collaborative and participatory sessions during which any topic can be discussed within smaller groups. The attendees can gather together in one digital setting, vote on topics they’d like to debate over, and explore each topic in a given amount of meeting time.

Even though the meeting agenda is not set, Lean Coffee meetings are highly adaptable to different teams and situations as well as extremely efficient. The structured format ensures that all attendees stay focused during the session and timeboxing allows for a greater number of topics to be covered, preventing unproductive conversations and tangents.

In conclusion, the article highlights the benefits of Lean Coffee meetings, including their collaborative nature, adaptability, and efficiency. They can also be used for a variety of activities like team-building or problem-solving.

If you’d like to meet with your group of attendees to conduct a Lean Coffee session on a digital board, don’t hesitate and give a try. You can test our tool for 30 days for free!