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Do you ever feel that there are far too many people in your organisation that you would like to talk to, but never get the chance?

Do you also feel that is too awkward/bothersome/intrusive to ask point blank for a meeting, and then deal with the hassle of agreeing a mutually convenient time?

Do you sometimes like committing yourself to things in advance so that you can't weasle out with familiar excuses when the time comes?

And do you like going for 'coffee', broadly conceived? (As Will put it in the film Good Will Hunting when asked if he would like to meet for coffee: "Sure, or we could just get together and eat a bunch of caramels ... it's as arbitrary as drinking coffee.")

If you answered yes to the four questions above then you will like the following idea, and might even want to try it in your organisation.

Hat tip to colleague Benedict Dellot for disclosing a wonderful new initiative at NESTA called 'Randomised Coffee Trials' which basically work as follows: you commit to meeting another member of staff for coffee once a week and you are randomly assigned somebody to have coffee with from among those who make the commitment. You are not obliged to talk about anything in particular. That's it.

So why do this?

According to NESTA the benefits include the following:

  • Provides legitimacy to chat to people about things that aren't directly work related. Although every time there have been direct beneficial impacts on various projects and programmes.
  • Totally random conversations, as well as some very useful work related conversations. Breaks silos ... in a really effective way.
  • Offers the chance to make time to talk to people they should be talking to anyway, and to meet people who they won't be directly working with but it's nice to know who they are!
  • It's a really good way of revealing links within the organisation and encouraging us to collaborate. It's interesting that being part of the wider 'RCT' banners gives permission to spend and honour the time. Less likely to cancel a catch up if it's an RCT coffee than a social catch up on a busy day.
  • They like the prompt to talk to someone new (or someone they already know), and the permission to take 30 minutes just to see what's going on, without any particular agenda or goal.

From a behaviour change perspective, I particularly like the point: Less likely to cancel a catch up if it's an RCT coffee than a social catch up on a busy day. By framing it as a professional commitment, you are tapping into work related social norms.

But most of all I agree with the idea of giving serendipity a chance, and although this may be pushing the point a bit too far, the idea connects to the importance of weak ties in social network theory- in essence, we tend to exhaust the resources of our immediate social network, and get our best opportunities from those a few degrees removed from it.

Like any other initiative, I imagine that over time RCTs could ossify into something very mundane and burdensome, but in the short term at least, it looks to me like a great idea worthy of wide uptake.


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