Richard has a knack for keeping things focused on the outcome. Ultimately, he helps teams to get results.

This was a quote from a recent client. I’m not sharing this to brag but as validation for a simple technique that I often use with clients to energise their meetings and keep them efficient

If you’re finding that your meetings aren’t working, you’re not alone. Try a Lean Coffee.

#1. Create your kanban (literally “signboard” in Japanese)


The kanban has three columns: items to discuss, what you’re currently discussing, and the items that you’ve finished discussing.

How to populate it?

#2. Build your agenda

People put their desired topic on a Stickie and add it to the “To Discuss” column. These can be whatever people want to discuss or you could impose a theme. To begin, encourage as many unique ideas as possible.

When you feel like you have enough (and you’ll be the best judge of when that is), each person gets to introduce their topic with 1 to 2 sentences. This way people know what to vote for.

#3. Vote

Each participant votes by putting dots on the Stickies. They can put up to two dots on the Stickies that they’re interested in. People can vote twice for the same thing or for two different topics. As a facilitator, your job is to tally the dots. Then you’re ready to have a conversation.

The power here is that you now have a list of topics everyone at the table is interested in and who are genuinely motivated to discuss. It’s techniques like this that have helped me to get teams focussed on outcomes – in this case, what people really want from the conversation.

#4. Talk


Your job as facilitator is to manage the conversation topics through the kanban. One popular method is to check-in every, say, 10 minutes and ask people to ‘thumb vote’ on whether to continue with the topic. After a count of three, ask people to put their thumbs up if they want to keep discussing, or thumbs down to move on. If the majority want to stay on that topic, keep going for 10 minutes, otherwise, move on to the next topic.

A word of warning:
I once ran a Lean Coffee with a participant who was shocked and frustrated that the meeting was not opening with a clear agenda. A colleague and I needed some time to reassure him that we would have a focussed meeting. One tip is to send out a message beforehand to make it clear that the meeting will not open with a traditional agenda, but will nonetheless be focussed on what’s important and highly productive.