A woman walks into her favourite café for a coffee and leaves with a red hat and a white hat


The woman returned to her favourite café the next day and sat at the bar stool closest to the coffee machine. The barista nodded at her and reached for the filter holder to make her usual drink.

Good morning.  I’ve been thinking about these hats, said the woman. 

Great.The barista reached behind him for a small red top hat and a white top hat of the same size. He placed the red hat in her hands and the white hat on the counter.

If you remember yesterday, I asked you tothink about how this meeting makes you feel, your gut instinct, every time you turn up?

The woman turned the red hat upside down as if looking for her answer inside the hat. She hmm-hmm-edto confirm she remembered.

You were about to launch into your reply but I asked you to stop, so we can focus on the blue hat, the structure of our meeting. He began to grind the beans and pressed these firmly into the filter holder.

So, when I ask you this time, I want you to summarise in no more than one or two words, how this meeting makes you feel? You don’t need to justify how you feel or even think too long about it. Just go with your gut instinct and tell me the one or two words that first come to mind. The red hat is about your gut instinct or how you feel on a topic, no more, no less, OK?

She placed the red hat down slowly, firmly and released her hands, downloading two gut-instinct words:

Frustrated…… and, and…… I want to say useless, but….

The red hat is about your gut instinct or how you feel on a topic, no more, no less, OK?

Perfect! And no need to justify or explain which words you chose.  I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to make you great coffee, offer some thinking tools, and keep your thinking to a time limit. He pulled the red hat away from the counter, flipped it in the air and placed it under the counter out of sight.

OK, now. The barista pushed the white hat forward towards the woman. The white hat is all about the data, information. It’s what we know. It’s also playing with what we don’t know and where to get that information.  So while I froth the milk for your coffee, think about some facts about this meeting.

The woman was prepared for this, living this ‘always’ problem every Monday, as well as thinking about it overnight after the barista’s prompt. She pulled out her phone and looked at the notes she had made.

The barista pushed Tuesday’s coffee in front of her. So what do we know?

The white hat is all about the data, information. It’s what we know. It’s also playing with what we don’t know and where to get that information. 

Right, it’s on a Monday. It’s always scheduled for an hour, but always runs over by 15-20 minutes. People arrive late.  There is no written agenda, but we follow a basic round-the-table format, where we say what we’re up to in the week.  No-one asks any questions. And my biggest bugbear is that we often get told things or there are actions for team members, but we don’t follow up in the next meeting. That really grates me….

Stop there. The barista held up his hand.Hold on to that frustration, remember we’ve already used the red hat. Let’s keep our thinking straight and to the facts, or what we don’t know.

She took a sip from the cup and wiped the froth from her lip. I don’t know why we have the meeting.  It’s not clear why we have it or what we are trying to achieve. Others have said to me how they feel about it and they aren’t happy, they say it’s a waste of time and money.

Cool, we can look at other people’s views with the white hat, so that’s helpful.Where do you hold the meeting?

In our board room, which doesn’t have a lot of natural light, and is down the other end of the building.

The barista was getting a pretty clear picture of a gloomy meeting. Where could you find out about why the meeting is held or what the purpose is?

My boss, the General Manager, she might be clearer. It’s her meeting.

The barista looked at his watch, and nodded to other customers who had just walked into the woman’s favourite café. Cool, hey you need to get out of here, and I have to serve up some more great coffee.  If there are any other facts that we need to know or you can find out, bring them back tomorrow, but our focus will be on a different hat. Do you remember our focus statement? The barista placed the piece of paper on the counter with different coloured hats and the statement:

“How to have productive, meaningful team meetings”.

Yep, I’ve got it in the note on my phone.  I’ve recorded our chat this morning, if that’s OK, so I can double check what we’ve talked about and what more info I need to get? 

No problems. The barista reassured the woman.

She sighed. Hey thanks, even talking about this is making me feel a bit better, andclearer about the problem.

The barista at her favourite café smiled back at her. Yeah, and maybe that coffee is helping too, aye!  See you tomorrow.