Coffee & Creativity: where’s the connection?

We’re living our professional lives in a virtual reality. It’s easier than ever to get involved in exciting events all over the world. But one thing that has really bit the dust this year is the humble chat — from networking to having a natter.

As Wales went back into Autumn lockdown, a few people on twitter were looking for the work-related human contact that, despite the other benefits of home-working, we are missing.

I offered to co-ordinate a digital Randomised Coffee Trial, also known as Coffee Roulette, assuming most people would be overwhelmed with online activity. But if a dozen or so were interested it felt worth it. I love connecting people — something good nearly always comes from it. Rumours of meeting a lovely bloke/woman through to world domination in this case (though both were in appropriate work context so don’t get over-excited).

Within 48 hours more than 40 people had signed up from private, public and third sector organisations.

What is a randomised coffee trial?

It’s a way of bringing people together who might not otherwise get a chance to chat. They sign up for a half hour conversation, are randomly matched to another person who they arrange to meet. You can find out more here.

Some organisations use them to break down silos by getting colleagues from different departments to talk to each other. If they’re run on a truly random basis, you might end up with the person you speak to three times a day. But it might just give you permission to talk about the stuff you normally wouldn’t get to discuss. Did you know they used to be a Russian orthodox priest or you share a passion for unusual rail journeys? This insight into each other’s worlds can bring real benefit.

How did this one run?

An open invite was made via Twitter to anyone who wanted to get involved. The purpose?

  1. Connecting people
  2. Developing insight & exploring whether people felt the benefit
  3. Taking a quick “pulse” to see what might follow

Participants were sent some basic principles with minimal joining instructions followed up by four quick questions. Why they got involved, what they got out of the experience, what they wish had been done differently, would they do it again? Not everyone has met as yet, so results are still coming in but more than half have responded so far. Quick pulse surveys can result in good response rates because they don’t bog people down and offer fast feedback to develop ideas quickly and iteratively.

And the comments are heart-warming.

Respondents described their conversations and each other as lovely, interesting, worthwhile. Almost everyone commented on the positive impact of connecting and conversation. Themes such as creativity and opportunity came through clearly. People described missing out on using their softer networking skills. It’s the stuff that happens in the margins they’re missing. The coffee break or canteen conversations, the networking that takes place at conferences, or the snippets of information gathered before and after the core business of meetings. Above all, a sense of anticipation, expecting the unexpected.

So what’s the difference?

Many of us are recognising the need for more unexpected, unstructured interaction with other humans.

And more than this, we recognise the creativity it sparks in each other — the new ideas, opportunities, personal and organisational benefits that flow.

The good news is that there are tried and tested methods of building this into our new ways of working. New connections can still be made, innovation and ideas developed.

And when it’s safe to do so, we can go back to old skool ways and meet for that coffee and cake in person.

with thanks to Wales Audit Office Good Practice Exchange and Nesta for insight and inspiration. They explain Randomised Coffee Trials in this short video and blog.

To find out how Arc: Making the Difference can help you, please get in touch. We support organisations and individuals towards sustainable change. We love making things better and creating change that lasts.

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