How to run an effective lean coffee meeting

Discover how to run an effective lean coffee meeting with this comprehensive guide. Learn to facilitate focused and democratic discussions, and boost your team's productivity and collaboration.

Craft Author: Tom Norman
Tom Norman
Team having a lean coffee meeting.

A lean coffee meeting is a streamlined, participant-driven gathering designed to enhance your team's collaboration and productivity. Originating from the agile and lean startup methodologies, this approach allows participants to set the agenda, ensuring that the discussion topics are relevant and engaging for everyone involved.

From setting up the right environment to facilitating meaningful conversations, transform your team meetings into dynamic, focused, and productive sessions.

Follow this step-by-step guide to learn how to organize and conduct an effective lean coffee meeting and discover how it can benefit your team by fostering more focused, efficient, and democratic discussions. Whether you're a team leader, a project manager, or a participant eager to contribute more effectively — keep reading to discover how to make every session count.

Preparing for a lean coffee meeting

Before diving headfirst into this new meeting format, start with some groundwork. From picking the right location to gathering essential supplies, the first steps set the stage for a successful meeting.

1. Choose the right venue

  • Space requirements: Look for a room that’s spacious enough to accommodate all participants comfortably. Make sure there's enough table space for everyone to spread out their notepads and laptops.
  • Amenities: Consider what amenities the room offers. Is there a whiteboard? Are power outlets readily available for laptops? These details can make a significant difference in how productive your meeting will be.
  • Accessibility: Ensure the location is easily accessible for all team members. If some participants are joining the meeting remotely, ensure you have access to reliable Wi-Fi and video conferencing tools.

2. Invite participants

  • Diverse skill sets: Try to include participants with a mix of roles and expertise levels. Diversity often sparks the most valuable discussions.
  • Advance notice: Send out invitations at least a week in advance to give people enough time to rearrange their schedules if needed.
  • Pre-meeting brief: Along with the invitation, include a brief overview of what a lean coffee meeting is and your main objectives.

3. Gather supplies

  • Basic supplies: Stock up on sticky notes in various colors, markers, and a timer. Each color could represent a different topic or priority level.
  • Technology setup: If you’re including remote participants, test your video conferencing setup in advance. Make sure the audio and visual components work flawlessly.
  • Backup supplies: Always have extra markers and sticky notes on hand. This way you don't have to worry about interrupting the flow of the meeting.

4. Optional: pre-meeting survey

  • Topic suggestions: Consider sending out a survey for topic suggestions before the meeting. While it's not a traditional step for a lean coffee meeting, it can speed up the initial phases and lead to more actionable results.

5. Create a meeting agenda

  • Rough outline: Draft a loose meeting agenda in Craft. You can include suggested time slots when team members will vote to continue or switch discussion topics.

By paying attention to these details, you’re laying down a foundation for a more effective and productive lean coffee meeting. The better the preparation, the smoother the meeting will go, allowing you to focus on driving meaningful discussions.

Lean coffee meeting templates

Before the meeting

Getting the logistics of the meeting right is essential — but setting clear expectations is equally important for the success of your lean coffee meeting.

  • Send a primer: Let attendees know what to expect, especially if it's their first lean coffee meeting. Providing a pre-meeting overview helps to alleviate any uncertainties, and sets participants up for a productive session.
  • Set the ground rules: Make sure everyone is clear on the format and the purpose of the meeting. Taking a few minutes at the beginning to clarify the rules can save time and ensure everyone is aligned.

Conducting a lean coffee meeting

Once you've chosen the right location, briefed your attendees, and prepared all the necessary materials; it's time to focus on how to run the meeting itself effectively. Follow these steps to make sure your lean coffee meeting is as effective and productive as possible:

  1. Topic gathering: During this phase, participants write down suggested topics and put them on a board. This approach ensures that all voices are heard and that the meeting focuses on what the team finds most important.
  2. Voting: Each participant votes on the topics they consider most relevant. This allows the team to prioritize discussions effectively, ensuring that the most pressing issues get addressed first.
  3. Discussion: Start with the highest-voted topic. Use a timer to limit every topic to 5-10 minutes. Timing each segment helps keep the discussion focused and allows the team to cover multiple topics in a single meeting.
  4. Closure: End the meeting with a round of quick takeaways. This wrap-up gives you a chance to summarize key points and identify any follow-up actions, providing the team with a clear sense of direction.

Tips for an effective lean coffee meeting

Effectively facilitating discussions during a lean coffee meeting can be challenging. Employing the right techniques can help you keep conversations productive and ensure everyone leaves the room feeling heard. Here are some tips for effectively guiding the discussion:

  • Keep an eye on the clock: Appoint a timekeeper to ensure the meeting stays on track. Having a designated person to watch the time can prevent conversations from going off track and ensure that multiple topics are covered.
  • Encourage quiet voices: Make space for everyone to contribute. You should actively invite quieter team members to share their thoughts, creating a more inclusive environment.
  • Create a sideboard: If discussions veer off-topic, use a separate "Sideboard" area to note these points for future discussion. This helps keep the meeting focused while ensuring that valuable ideas aren't lost.

Common challenges and solutions

While lean coffee meetings are designed to be collaborative and efficient, they're not immune to common meeting pitfalls. Here's how to avoid them and keep your meeting on the right track:

  • Dominating the conversation: Avoid allowing a few team members to control the conversation. When only one or two individuals take over the meeting, it hinders the collaborative spirit essential for lean coffee meetings.
    Solution: Implement a “two feet rule". This will empower participants to move away from discussions or topics where they are not learning or contributing.
  • Overrunning time: Make sure to stick to your allocated time per topic. Running over time can lead to rushed discussions at the end, or important topics not be discussed at all.
    Solution: Use a timer clearly visible to all participants. This keeps everyone aware of the time constraints.


Lean coffee meetings offer a unique approach to team collaboration and productivity. They democratize the floor, giving everyone a chance to contribute. For a lean coffee meeting, reparation is key, so it's crucial sure to choose an appropriate space, invite the right people, and gather all necessary supplies. Keep an eye out for common pitfalls and apply strategies to prevent them.

Are you ready to plan your next lean coffee meeting? Get started and see it transform your team collaboration, and turn your meetings into productive, focused sessions leading to actionable results.

Free meeting templates