Update: Guided Conversation have taken off. There is now an official site for them.

Meeting formats tend to gravitate between extremes of formal or informal. From meetings with water-tight agendas, to meetings with no goal or structure. Both leave attendees bored and frustrated. Finding a format which bridges the two extremes allows us to have enjoyable and productive meetings.

LeanCoffee has revolutionised meetings around the world by introducing an agenda-less and democratic format.

At CodeCraft we’ve come up with a variant of LeanCoffee. This has allowed us to create a new focused structured meeting which we call “Guided Conversations”

What is it?

A GuidedConversation is a meeting where a facilitator comes up with a starting set of questions around a single topic. The group then discuss those questions with 8 minutes given for each question.

For example, at CodeCraft we ran a session on the Microservices topic. We started with this agenda written on a deck of index cards:

  • What is a Microservice?
  • What are the motivations for Microservices?
  • What are the drawbacks of Microservices?
  • How big should a Microservice be (LoC)?
  • How do we organise and identify each service?
  • /more questions/
  • /time for bonus questions raised/

During GuidedConversations you introduce the current question and listen for off-topic items. If you think that an off-topic item sounds like something worth discussing you add it to the list of scheduled questions. Usually it is one of the questions you already have in your deck of cards.

You need to have strong facilitation skills to run one of these meetings. If the conversation veers too far off the current question, you have to bring the discussion back on track.

When should I use it?

If you have a single topic which you’d like to discuss with others in depth. But don’t want the potential attendees to have to prepare before hand. Then this format is a good choice.

The use of time boxing keeps the flow of conversation going. Attendees get new questions at a regular interval and can influence the agenda during the meeting.

GuidedConversations provide an engaging format for creating fun and structured meetings. With the bonus of having little up-front effort from the facilitators.

It has proven to work well for meetups, I hope it also will for a potential conference.