How #randomcoffee got our company talking

We’ve all been there: Those awkward moments where you’re sharing space with someone, like waiting for the coffee machine at work. There’s a nod, maybe a smile, but not much more… Two people existing in parallel but never really connecting.

But we’ve also been here: A random encounter with someone where you unexpectedly connect on a more-than-superficial level. Surprisingly, that chance encounter leads to discovering a shared interest and sparks a deep discussion around a problem. All of a sudden, you find yourself with a new friend, and are tackling that gnarly problem from a completely different angle which, in turn, leads to a better solution that you could have imagined.

Assisted Serendipity

In any group, I find it’s the informal relationships that are the most effective in getting stuff done. Why? People naturally want to help other people and they are much more likely to do so when the obstacle of unfamiliarity is out of the way. This is where a facilitated and informal ‘blind’ chat can work it’s magic. We call this #randomcoffee. It’s a catalyst that facilitates relationships and eases the awkwardness of approaching someone new. Why coffee? Coffee dates require less commitment because they are inexpensive and quick in nature, yet can be drawn out in length by good conversation.

The term “assisted serendipity” comes from Ryan Vanderbilt’s article in Fast Company about the future of collaboration. He elegantly uses the proximity of magnets to illustrate the benefits of helping to bring two things together. ‘If two magnets are separated by too much distance, they won’t have any impact on each other,” he writes “But, if something helps move them a bit closer, they will gravitate towards each other and connect. Technology can be used in a similar way. It can connect you to other people, skills, tools, and trigger new ways of thinking and working; it can create an “assisted serendipity.”’

Ten Thousand Coffees built a business around helping people connect, Robert Meggs at Etsy built an internal tool called Mixer for the same reasons; The University of Michigan started “Innovate Brew” last October to foster innovation; they randomly match their faculty for 30-minute coffee meetings once a month.

Each of these organizations is looking for ways to bring people together for a conversation to learn about one another—and from one another—in the hopes that it changes their future behaviour for the benefit of all.

#randomcoffee

So, after a few conversations (over coffee, true story), one Google Form, and assistance with writing and sending… in February 2016, we had 128 people sign up for their first #randomcoffee at Hootsuite.

This is an email sent to participants. I hoped to strike a balance of humour and encouragement 🙂

What happened next?

I started to collect anecdotes because people kept stopping me in the hallway and sharing something positive about their experience. People also posted selfies of their coffees and a blurb about the experience on our internal network. These anecdotes are so uplifting to read because they remind me of the positive effect of #randomcoffee. They have also served as seeds for the program’s evolution. Accidental Innovation

At our CEO’s first random coffee he mentioned he was looking for a way to frequently “share breaking company news, solicit and respond to feedback, and provide transparency into the business.” His #randomcoffee pair, Amelia suggested “video”. From this emerged the “Weekly CEO Update” a video digest of strategic updates and initiatives that he records and posts on our internal network every Thursday.

Soundboarding

Ryan C stopped by my desk to ask “When are we going to do this again?? I was matched with someone on our blog team. We had a long talk and because of that, I came to a solution about a problem I had been trying to solve alone for a long time.”

Relationships

Sim, who said “Hey, I just had a random coffee with Cail. It was frickin’ awesome! We talked about [insert future secret product update here] and I’m going to be working on it in a couple months so I said I’d get in touch with him about it.”

Ric summed it up well: “Because better relationships lead to better work.”

Department & Remote #randomcoffee

This July, our Customer Support department ran their own departmental #randomcoffee event. This was an experiment to bring people together between our EMEA offices in London and Bucharest. Why? Cultivating relationships across geographies can be tough. Anecdotally, the event was universally loved and supported our hunch that chats across Google hangouts are not quite the same as face-to-face but good enough. That’s important to remember; we often think that these types of events must be local but our experience shows otherwise.

#randomlunch

Someone this summer said “How cool would it be if…” and suddenly #randomlunch—a mashup of two random coffee pairs for lunch—was in play. Notwithstanding the different vibe of lunches and scheduling, the mathematical magic of #randomlunch is that it results in six times the number of connections between individuals.

What does the data say?

The data includes the events run globally, but excludes data from those who are running these programs within their department.
  • #randomcoffee or #randomlunch have run monthly since February 2016
  • Between 12% and 18% of our global staff have participated in each #randomcoffee
  • A #randomcocktail at our 2017 Kickoff generated 483 new connections across Hootsuite globally
  • In total it’s facilitated a total of 1689 connections so far
All those connections improve the tensile strength of our organization by making us more resilient and more collaborative.

Now you can do it too

Hackathons are an example of random people come together for a shared purpose. Similar to #randomcoffee, this kind of facilitated but haphazard selection can result in wonderful things, such as an online tool to automate our matches for our mentoring program….which later becomes the base for #randomcoffee.

During our October 2016 hackathon our team wanted to bring the benefit of #randomcoffee to as many people as possible, as easily as possible. To do so, we focused on the convenience of sign up (free, online) and usage.

You can go to http://randomcoffee.me and request to sign up your organization and take this for a spin. Our only ask is that you help us pay-it-forward by sharing your experience and your feedback with us: ‘what worked well, and what we can improve?’, as well as your anecdotes.

What’s Next?

Lots of possibilities…
  • Move to a self-service option (#randomcoffee or lunch on demand)
  • Implement a subscription model for customers
  • Automate calendar matching between participants
  • Suggested conversation starters
Take it for a spin and let us know how you think it should evolve.

FAQ

  • I don’t pay for the coffees, I just play matchmaker.
  • Participants organize their own coffee or lunch. Afterwards they follow-up with a selfie and blurb on Instagram (#randomcoffee) and our internal network.
  • Where can I find adorable cat coffee pictures? Check out Stefan Kuhnigk’s artwork.

Thank You

The evolution of #randomcoffee was possible because of Ken Britton‘s stewardship and technical savvy, Sheryl Soo‘s design and UX, and Noel Heaney‘s UX. Feedback from our participants’ were critical to moving it forward. Team Hachiato brought it from Google Forms to a public, online site: Denis Antipov, Kerri Bremner, Kerry McNamee, Rafael Jacinto, Kirbee Parsons, Oleksander Zadorozhnyi, and Pablo Bouza. Thank you to Lindsay Staniforth, James Mulvey, and Ric Mazereeuw for editing drafts of this post.

 

 

 

About the AuthorNoel Pullen 200x200

Noel focuses on culture, employee engagement, technical community involvement, and training for Hootsuite’s technical groups. He loves to exchange ideas and would like to hear how you do these things at your organization. Get in touch via Twitter @noelpullen.