How to run a Lean Beer

Over here in the Tampa Bay area we have a large local user group, Tampa Bay Agile, and therefore, we have had to create several sub-groups and events to support our many members. 

One such recurring event is the new Lean Beer event that I have been running, which is also referred to as Lean Tavern by some. I would like to share how we run our event so that it will be easier for others to run similar Lean Beer events.

Lean Beer is conducted in a similar fashion as Lean Coffee. The main difference between the events is that usually Lean Coffee events are held early in the morning. Yes, you can run a Lean Coffee anytime, but it also has the downside of needing walls and the mechanics of dot voting if it is not held in an office setting.

The Idea

The idea behind Lean Beer is that it's a happy hour event located in a bar environment. The events are run after work, typically from 6 to 7:30 pm. The timing is great because even if I'm the only one showing up, it's happy hour and I can relax with a drink.

Here's how to run one

1) First, find a bar. Ideally, one where you don't have to shout to be heard over the loud music. Sit where you can all hear each other. We find that sitting in a U shape works best, or a wide table with people on both sides. We have had anywhere from 3 to 23 people show up. Things work best when everyone has a drink with them, even if it is just water.

2) Start by having everyone write down something they want to discuss, share or ask a question. Write each topic on a piece of paper, post-it, index card---anything really. Have each person fold up the paper when done.

3) Collect the writings and either A) put them in a bucket, or B) into a pile. All the pieces should be folded. I usually try and bring a bucket but sometimes I put them in a pile when I don't have one.

4) Someone randomly pulls out a discussion topic. This is easier with a bucket, but if you don't have one just mix the topics up in the pile and select one randomly. Typically, I facilitate and do this part but really anyone can do it. Read the card out loud to the group. Depending on what is written, you might ask the author of the writing to explain or elaborate.

5) Set the timer for five minutes and discuss. There's no need for a talking stick; it's just people at a bar talking, trying to help, answering questions, listening to an idea, etc. 

6) When the buzzer dings, stop everyone and ask, "Do we want to keep discussing this topic?". Everyone that wishes to keep discussing raises their glass in salute. Two options. A) Majority wins and 5 more minutes are added on the timer or B) discussion on the topic only continues if there is unanimous agreement. Typically, I prefer the first option.

Note: Raising the glass should always be an "affirmative" answer. So you can answer any yes/no question by raising your glass to signal yes. 

7) If the voters decide to move on, then that's it. Toss out the current topic and go back to step 4.

You've now run a Lean Beer.

Some tips

  • Layout index cards and pens ahead of time for people. Ask everyone to write topics down during a networking session before the event starts. 
  • If you don't have a lot of ideas in the bucket, try lengthening the 5-minute timer to 7 minutes. 
  • Prepare backup ideas, questions or new things to share to add to the bucket.
  • If you run out of topics, set a 5-minute timer and ask everyone to take that five minutes to write down some more topics.
  • Try to find a bar that has appetizers or bar food.
  • If the bar plays music, see if they will lower it while your group is there. Typically, we go to the same bar every month so we can feel comfortable asking these favors from them.
  • Late night bars work better as they are typically slow during the hours after work and don't really pick up business until 8pm.

We have created a site for the community. http://www.leanbeer.org