Lean Coffee vs Round Table


The setup

For the last three weeks, I have been attending the Melbourne Lean Coffee meetup online. It has been an awesome experience, that probably is nearly finished due to the time changes that are coming and the fact that it will clash with the gym class I do with my wife.

I organized for around a year and a half meetups for the LSCC, both Dojos and Round Tables. And it was fascinating to see the difference between the style of Lean Coffees and Round Tables.

What is Lean Coffee

For the explanation of what Lean Coffee is, rather than explaining it myself I am going to point you to this blog post by David Williams who is a co-organizator of the meetup. Read that, and then you can come back excited about the idea.

What is a Round Table

Well, I can’t seem to find a good write-up about Round Tables (or any at all). So I will give you a short description, based on my experience. Maybe at some point someone should do a bigger one (me? you? them?).

The basic idea of Round Table is not specific to Software or the Crafting movement. Apart from the LSCC, I know that Socrates conferences use it (for example Socrates UK). For a quick description this could do: Round Tables are meetups in which some chosen topics are discussed by everyone that is present, in equal footing.

There are a few rules that I am aware of:

In terms of choosing the topic, at the LSCC we usually did one or two rounds of voting, to select one, two or three topics (depending on attending numbers). At the LSCC we usually did a few lightning talks before doing the voting, to give people time to think and put forward the topics they wanted to converse about (sometimes the lightning talks provided the idea for them). Then people will divide in groups (one per topic) to start the dialogue. As per the second rule, a topic could deviate without issues, you go where the conversation leads you. The discussion usually don’t last more than an hour. As per the last rule people sometimes move from one group to another.

Lean Coffee vs Round Table

Hopefully now you have an idea of both formats. So I can talk a bit about what I see as differences.

The first one being the length of time given to discuss the topics. Lean Coffee works in 5 minutes increments, while Round Tables use all the time allocated for the topic discussed. As such, Lean Coffee discussions tend to be quite focused, while Round Tables invariable diverge into different paths.

I have found easier to propose topics for Lean Coffee, as you don’t have to think about a topic big enough or widely interesting enough to attract people to it. They tend to be more broad in the range of topics, based on what I have seen. Furthermore, I think is easier to participate in Lean Coffee discussions. No one can talk for a long time, so they don’t need to have the big idea. The fact that whatever you propose to talk about is very likely to be actually discussed gives you an impetus to propose more ideas.

The Round Tables do allow for more deeper discussion of topics, and the linking of ideas. I find both things enticing. But there is something refreshing to just the quick talks that give you a lot of material to delve deeper on your own (for example, I have on my “investigate” list: the Thomas-Kilmann model, Makarrata and Liberating Structures)

One problem that I found with Round Tables is that at times you end quickly with just two or three people at most moving the discussion. Which so far hasn’t really happened in the Lean Coffee meetups. It could be also that David is a better host than I am.

I would say that I would recommend for people that have never participated in this kind of open discussions to do Lean Coffees. And, once they are a bit more comfortable speaking, add Round Tables to the meetings they attend.

I have found both styles valuable, and I hope to continue doing both in the future.

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