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Time for a coffee?

Its often been said that making time for a cup of coffee with a client can be immensely rewarding. Whether it be instant, filter, or freshly ground the moment created by the humble coffee is one in which relationships can be forged, concerned shared, and (sometimes) a new approach to a problem can be found. There are occasions when a coffee, rather than an e-mail or a text message is the order of the day.

I was recently reminded of a knowledge sharing system a colleague described to me which was used in his organisation for many years quite successfully, long before computers began to appear.

Once a week the team would have a coffee morning. The way the system worked was this: the coffee area had a row of pegs on one wall, when you arrived at work on the day of the coffee morning you would hang your mug on the peg and then head on up to your desk. As others arrived they could see who was going to attend by which pegs had coffee mugs. So Doug might arrive and see that Johns mug was on the peg, reminding him that there was something hed been meaning to ask John about. At 11am (coffee time) Doug would head down to the coffee area bringing with him the drawings or documents he wanted to discuss with John. Doug and John would fill up their mugs, lay the documents out on the table and talk the issue over. Of course they could have chatted about this at any time, but at any other time they tended to be too busy...

Today the coffee system has been replaced by the lessons learned database, the project extranet, the ubiquitous e-mail. For a while it seemed that the introduction of the personal computer meant that conversation over a coffee had been replaced by the electronic transfer and retrieval of information and messages, and many of us began to feel the effects of information overload, the electronic tail was beginning to wag the dog.

Over the last few years the sense of information overload has for most of us continued its expansion, perhaps because of this you may have missed something else which is beginning to emerge, online systems are moving from information spaces towards being social spaces. We see this trend with twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and these systems are beginning to influence the design of our corporate systems also. Some of the new social tools aim to connect people and support virtual conversations, others provide a means to search for colleagues who have particular skills or experience which they have published on their online profile.

Just last week I used my organisations online system to reach out to colleagues on a particular topic, interestingly having connected using the software we used our online chat system to arrange to meet when I was next visiting his office. A few days later we did meet up for a valuable knowledge sharing conversation - naturally this was over a cup of coffee!

Does your organisation provide tools to help you find, connect, and have conversations with colleagues? How well do these work for you?

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  1. Lisa Rutland
    Lisa Rutland 10 October 2012, 10:35 PM

    I have recently moved into a client based construction company where I have a lot of freedom and spend about 50% of my time outside of the office.  I often propose meeting contractors out at cafes to have a chat over a coffee (mostly because I am a Melburnian and love an excuse to chat over a good coffee).  Most of the time I receive/hear the tone of bemusement but eventually get a yes reponse.  These meetings are very productive as it enables the discussion to be had sitting down in a relaxed/casual enviornment which thereby results in a relaxed/casual conversation.  It also gives you about 15 min of committed time to talk while your coffee cools down and time to drink it.  On top of that if gives you desk space which is handy when I'm onsite and struggling to hold up plans that are blowing in the wind.  Finally it can also break up the monotony of your day...a bit of fun.I have a friend in marketing whose whole team (about 12 people) visit a new coffee shop every month.  It's a great idea which I'm trying to persuade my boss to make this happen in our team meetings!Overall I think it's a great way of working.And if you're wondering I don't have an expense card so it's all out of my own pocket.

  2. Laura Taylor
    Laura Taylor 08 October 2012, 04:15 PM

    NASA got in touch to say they are also thinking about this issue. They have published an article about the importance of collaborative spaces:http://www.nasa.gov/offices/oce/appel/ask-academy/issues/volume5/5-3_space_collaborate.html

  3. Owain Wilson
    Owain Wilson 04 October 2012, 08:41 AM

    Interesting stuff, there's also a lot more discussion around social media in APM's "Social media in project management" group:http://www.apm.org.uk/node/1612/og/forum/731

  4. Nick Tattersall
    Nick Tattersall 03 October 2012, 06:53 PM

    I am a young project management professional and have worked in the profession since I left sixth form 4 years ago, so I have never experienced working life before the widespread use of computers that we all heavily rely upon to perform our jobs.  I am therefore aware of the importance and many advantages of electronic communication, specifically email.  However, I do agree that possibly an even more important way to communicate with stakeholders, whether that's team members, colleagues from other functions or a customer, is by way of a chat over a coffe (or tea).  It allows us to take time out of our busy day and away from our work stations to discuss the things that we've been meaning to discuss but haven't had chance because there's been too many emails to respond to.There is a new tool that has recently been put to use in the organisation where I work called Office Communicator, which is an instant messaging tool that can be used to chat to other colleagues across different locations.  Although it's not been used frequently across the organisation up to now due to the fact that many employees are probably unaware of its existence or how to use it, I recently started chatting to a previous line manager using this tool.  We subsequently met for lunch the next day and had a good catch-up, on both a work and personal front.  So I agree that the use of social media in a workplace setting can actually help bring colleagues together, even in a physical sense.