Productive coffee breaks

Freshly brewed espresso running into the cupsBritish development charity NESTA blogged yesterday about its coffee trials in an article called Institutionalising Serendipity via  Productive Coffee Breaks.

This kind of serendipity is something we (Global Integration) monitor, study and train people to manage, because you lose this in a virtual team environment – or anywhere where you’re not sat close to the people you work with. So it’s a challenge many large or dispersed organizations will face, and finding mechanisms to help replace that loss help companies become more successful and not lose out as they grow.

Nesta has organized itself so that staff can opt in to a weekly randomised match with another Nesta staff member to grab a coffee with – a program they have called Randomised Coffee Trials (RCT).

It’s a great idea, building community between people who may never have met as a consequence of their work.  That should always improve performance – exactly what Nesta has experienced.

Some of the conversations may have nothing to do with work, but do have everything to do with building relationships throughout the organization. Not only will this be tremendously helpful in the short term, as Nesta has noted, but also in the medium term: as people work together on cross-functional teams or projects it will help speed the success of those projects.

We have seen, time and again, that breaking through ‘functional silos’ makes cross functional work much easier. This is particularly important as this kind of working is now pretty much mainstream.

And people like it!  There is often resistance from individuals to any activity not directly associated with a project or other current work issue so this finding is very positive. (The benefits of happy staff impact are well documented, reaching well beyond the financials of employments costs into areas like discretionary effort and fitness for work.)

It’s interesting and somewhat disappointing that Nesta had to “give permission”, but I don’t think this is unusual. Well done to Nesta both for facilitating this – it’s always a brave move for organizations to allow working time ‘off the job’ – and for sharing its results.

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