Project managers worry about getting tasks done to tight schedule constraints. Everyone is always busy and suggesting that you and your team take time for training that is not directly related to project tasks might not be an appealing recommendation. I understand. However, I also believe that a break in the workday activities is a good thing and brown bag lunches can be entertaining and educational.
To put it in simple non-scientific terms, brains get tired and bodies get tired. Sitting in one position, leaning over your keyboard for hours at a time eventually leads to a decline in productivity. Breaking for lunch or coffee, walking around, relaxation, and exercise are all good ways to clear the cobwebs. So are brown bag lunches.
Brown bag training became a popular concept several years ago as a minimally intrusive way to offer mandatory training. However, the concept has many other applications that should motivate project managers to consider setting up a regular brown bag lunch for his or her team.
Things to do during a brown bag lunch
- Share technical expertise not related to regular project training. Because of either prior experience or personal avocations, members of your organization are experts in all kinds of practical and esoteric technology solutions that are interesting to others.
- Vendors are often willing to send technical professionals to present information on their products, technology and industry issues.
- Departments within your company can talk with your team about processes and tasks over which they have knowledge and control such as: how the accounting department processes travel reimbursements, what business analysis is all about, the activities of the editing or publishing group, and the legal department can share knowledge about protecting proprietary information or filing a patent application.
- Non-work related sharing that focuses on topics with broad appeal such as photography, web design, living green, college financial help…
How to setup an effective brown bag lunch program
Someone has to be in charge. In the beginning, that someone may be you or the person who is championing the idea of brown bag lunches. A few decisions need to be made—where, how long, how often. Personally, I would schedule brown bags once a month for an hour.
Setup a schedule at least three months in advance and post the upcoming topics using whatever communication method is customary in your organization. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are good days for brown bag lunches. As the time for the brown bag draws closer, send a personal invitation to team members reminding them of the lunch topic and encouraging them to attend.
Check the room where the brown bag is scheduled before the meeting to make sure tables are setup and there are enough chairs. If the presenter needs audio-visual aids, ensure that the equipment is there and working. If organizationally possible, offer sodas, coffee, tea, and water—occasionally a pizza is a welcome treat.
Approach and sell the idea of monthly brown bag lunches as a fun activity. This is not drudgery. It is not punishment. Brown bag lunches promote team cohesiveness. They help team members learn more about the people they work with everyday and gain useful information about the organization. Solicit topic ideas from the team and volunteers to present. As project manager, you need to serve as a role model for participation and attitude.
If you have experience with brown bag lunches, please share the good and the bad via your comments. I would love to have you post topic ideas for brown bags!