What Is the Purpose of ‘Free Coffee Mornings’?

A month ago (December 22nd), Gillian wrote a post about the value of weekly free coffee mornings in fostering staff networking and informal learning in our organization The Strength of Weak Coffee. Well, one month later we decided to explore the opinions of others in our organization on this topic. To do so, our team sponsored last Wednesday’s free coffee morning and, as staff flocked into the cafeteria, we explained that this week free coffee came at a small cost: In exchange for coffee – the completion of a brief questionnaire. What are the purposes of free coffee mornings? How do you feel free coffee mornings contribute to teamwork in our organization? What innovative ideas have been triggered during free coffee mornings? And, what did you learn over free coffee today?

As the cafeteria began to fill up, the exercise generated a lovely, humming buzz. What’s more, we were delighted to see that many people came equipped with pens – eager to share their thoughts, having been prepped by our email in advance. Perhaps more encouraging still was that throughout the day we were approached and asked for questionnaires by staff members who were unable to attend this week’s free coffee morning and yet still keen to have their voice heard.

A first look at the sixty questionnaires completed shows great support for free coffee mornings, with the majority of respondents citing their importance as a small ‘thank you’ from the organization and opportunity for staff networking and learning about matters of both personal and professional interest. A more substantive analysis is due, but for now I wanted to capture one additional outcome. Many staff commented on the exercise itself, pointing out learning about how to make the most of free coffee mornings in the future to engage with staff, about how enthusiastic staff are to express their opinions, and the importance of ‘social spaces’ and time for team-building and collaboration across ‘silos’.

So what did we learn? That a lot of learning in organizations takes place at unexpected times in unexpected places – informally. Often this has neither been noticed nor appreciated (either by the learners themselves or others). We need to continue to help notice and appreciate our learning by continuing to find ways to ask – and capture the answers to – the question: What did we learn today? This was a valuable purpose of this free coffee morning for us.

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