Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

How to Set Off a Brown Bag Session in Your Company – In 60 Minutes

First of all: What’s a Brown Bag Session? “A brown-bag seminar, session or lunch is generally a training or information session during a lunch break. The term “brown bag” refers to the packed lunch meals that are either brought along by the attendees or provided by the host.” (Wikipedia) At my current employer it is called Feed Your Brain and at my former employer it was called Pizza Driven Development.

At my current employer I successfully set off a “Brown Bag Session” with minimal effort (60 minutes), so I like to share this experience with everyone who is thinking about setting off a Brown Bag Session at her company but doesn’t know where or how to start.

This is what I did:

1) Find a sponsor – 10 minutes
“Do food” is always good and it is even better if you have a sponsor who is willing to pay for the pizza (or salad or sandwiches or…).
Adequate sponsors for your Brown Bag Session could be HR, CTO or CEO. Those people are interested that company folks get together and learn: Personal development and team building are the magic words. And both can be achieved very low priced with a Brown Bag Session. (The average costs for food for 30 people are about 180 €.)

2) Find a suitable day and room – 5 minutes
Check Outlook (or other tool) to see which convenient room is available over lunch in the next months. Block the room.

3) Find initial speakers – 10 minutes (2 minutes per speaker :))
This maybe the hardest part: Inspire some of your colleagues (you will know who to ask) about the idea of Brown Bag Sessions, offer yourself for the first sessions, ask external friends or ex-colleagues, … If you’re really having problems to fill the speaker slots for the first 3-4 sessions you could even show some TED talks or other conference videos (LKCE, SmashingConf etc.)

4) Inform everyone about the first session – 15 minutes
Depending on your company culture there will be different options how to do this: E-Mail, Intranet, Wiki, Flipchart… Even better a combination of those options.
You should provide at least the following information: What is a Brown Bag Session? Why are we starting this at our company? What is the first session about? Where will it happen (room)? What time? What will be future sessions be about/Who are your speakers? Who to contact if someone is interested to be a speaker in a future session?
Use an easy Google form (or other) to get information with a deadline: Who wants to attend? Who wants which pizza (veggie or non-veggie)?

5) Find a Pizza delivery service (or other) & talk to them – 10 minutes
Exactly. Find it and then talk to them. In my case I stopped by and explained that there would be an easy way for them to earn around 180 € on a weekly basis if they will deliver on time. They liked the idea… 😉
Maybe you even have an in-house canteen or cafeteria? Maybe you have a good reason not to ask them…

6) Order Pizza (or other) – 10 minutes
With the Google Doc (see 4) you know who will attend and who wants which food. Order on time because there is nothing worse than hungry people in front of a speaker. In my case I order already in the late afternoon on the day before the Brown Bag session.

That’s it. Start like this and then inspect & adapt…

Advanced ideas:

  • Think about how to document your “Brown Bag Sessions”:
    We record every Brown Bag Session with a camera and then provide the video plus PDF-presentation in our Wiki. It’s cool to review and there may be people who missed a talk.
  • Ask people what topics they like to hear about:
    Either at the beginning of a session using Post-Its or again via a Google form.
  • Have a shared Brown Bag Session:
    Some people are afraid of or think that they do not have enough to speak about for 1 hour. It is fun to have three different speakers with three different topics in 1 hour. Alternative: Do it like a world cafe with three groups. In that case the initial speaker stays at his table and repeats his talk for three times.

Let me know what you are thinking about Brown Bag Sessions and comment if you’re having trouble to set one off.

Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
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Activity for Team-Building event: The one thing…

The other week the team I’m working with as a Scrum Master had their first team event. We tried an activity that I found quite useful: The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting.

Some of the team members know each other already from working together in former teams, others just joined the team or our company and are not very familiar with the others. Our team event was planned for only half a day, the activity was an ongoing activity until the team stand-up the next morning.

At the beginning of the event I presented The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting simply on a flip-chart with a QR code and explained the rules:
team building activity

“During the event find out one thing about every team member that you didn’t know before the event. Remember it and post it via the Google Drive Form that is linked to the QR code.”

The Result

The result the next morning was a long list of things we discovered about our team members that we didn’t know about before the event. So with 10 team members we gathered over 90 things. Of course, everyone got access to the list and could read what the others found out about others and about oneself.

Not all of mentioned things can be taken seriously, but we definitely learnt new stuff about the others. When we start to share other aspects of our lives than work with our colleagues, we also start to speak openly with them about other things. Here is again a connection to Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. (Read related post “Job or Joy” here)

the one thingWhy I liked the activity?

  • It is an on-going activity during the team event.
  • It is easy to generate via Google Drive From.
  • It has a straight-forward list as a result.
  • It has a “Nerd” flavour. (Uuuh! QR code! Uuuh! Type in stuff with my mobile phone! Uuuh! So cool. :))
  • It influenced the “quality” of small-talk during the team event as you needed(wanted to gather data…

If you try this activity, please let me know your experiences.