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100 Coffee Chats

November 30, 2020

When I joined a new organization at Capital One in 2017, I didn’t know any of the roughly 30 employees. Despite being an introvert, I had a theory that if I got to know everyone on the team, I would be able to fashion a comfortable working environment for myself. Over the course of two months I invited each person to a 1:1 coffee chat to get to know them better, and learned a few things in the process:

  • “Tell me about yourself.” is a terrible opener, as people have a tendency to describe themselves according to the environment in which the question is asked, which in my case was the office. Before I switched to a more intentional line of questioning to help me understand the whole person, many people just recited their resumes.
  • It’s far easier to ask people questions or for favors if you’ve already had a nice conversation.
  • Just because it’s a “coffee chat” doesn’t mean everyone needs to drink coffee. I always did, and spiked my caffeine tolerance to an uncomfortable level as a result.
  • My theory was correct, and the more personal the coffee chat was, the more comfortable I felt being around that person.

After joining Kiva in 2019, I again didn’t know anyone in the roughly 40-person engineering organization, and decided to kick off my coffee chats again, incorporating learnings from last time. As I worked my way through the organization, I recalled Dunbar’s Number, which theorizes that the maximum number of stable social relationships an individual can maintain in a group is 150. Kiva has about 130 employees, so I thought, “Why not just invite everyone to coffee?”

Over the past year and a half, I’ve invited over 100 Kivans to 1:1 coffee chats. Though I still hesitate a bit before asking people to chat for the first time, it’s gotten significantly easier with practice, and I’m grateful for that increased confidence. Over the course of my conversations, I’ve found Kivans have really interesting backgrounds. There are far more PhDs than I expected, a lot of people on their second or third careers, and many people with work experience in other countries. I feel like I have the data now to make the argument that the average Kivan loves travel, the outdoors, Kiva’s mission, and working with other Kivans.

I can go into a lot more detail about Kivans’ histories, identities, hobbies and ways they’ve crossed paths with one another, but out of context it won’t mean much to you, reader. And for any Kivans reading this, I’m happy to answer your questions, though I encourage reaching out to that individual yourself.

Instead, I’ll just leave you with the questions I ask during a 30-minute chat, the recommendation that you get to know members of your company personally, and that if you ever want to grab some time with me, feel free to reach out.

  1. Why did you decide to work for Kiva?
  2. What are your hobbies? (or, pre-COVID, what were your hobbies?)

© 2020 Duncan McIsaac