Overview – Conversation cafés

Conversation cafes are a form of employee interaction that simulates the conversations friends have in cafes discussing topical issues and ways to solve them. The conversation cafe methodology models this by seating groups of employees, including leaders, around small cafe-style tables to exchange and incubate innovative ideas.

Conversation cafes are a valuable communication tactic because they provide a quick means to generate innovative ideas in a highly focused and structured way. According to thought leaders such as Margaret Wheatley, innovation is fostered by the information we gather through making new connections. These connections can take the form of new people, new disciplines or new places. The more connections we make, the greater the possibility of innovative breakthroughs. Conversation cafes enable new connections to new people, new disciplines and new ways of thinking.

Grey TickThis tactic is useful for:


Connecting employees from across a broad range of disciplines to quickly generate innovative ideas.
Fostering dialogue and interaction across diverse employee groups for cross-fertilisation of ideas.

cloudyThings to consider:


Select topic to be discussed: either a critical issue or key organisational objective.
Invite participants from a cross-section of the organisation, including some from unrelated disciplines.
At the venue, seat participants in groups of six at small café-style tables covered with butcher’s paper for recording key discussion points.
Introduce the topic, explain why it’s important, and the purpose of the session. The topic is discussed at each table for 15 minutes with key points recorded on the butcher’s paper.
After 15 minutes, each table selects an anchor person who remains at the table. Each of the other five people moves to different tables.
Each anchor person shares with the five newcomers the main points recorded on the butcher’s paper. Those ideas are then ‘incubated’ through continuing exchange of ideas and key points recorded.
This process is repeated three times so each person interacts with 20 different people over one hour.
Finally, each table nominates a spokesperson who provides an overview of the key points discussed. Actions are agreed as required and published on the intranet.

Tone BulbHelpful tip:


Phrase the discussion topic positively. For example, a topic might be worded as follows: “How might we deliver superior customer service so that we achieve a leadership position in our sector?”
Further information about conversation cafes can be sourced from these two websites, The world cafe and Conversation cafe.
Category: Face to Face