Let’s talk about Organizational Culture #11! This week’s topic: Brown Bag Meetings

Last week, one of OpenClassrooms’ employees invited everybody to gather in the big meeting room because he had something on his mind. There was nothing wrong, he just had some interesting ideas and he felt like sharing them with the rest of the organization! So during lunch, everybody gathered in the meeting room for what is called a ‘Brown Bag Meeting’.

On the other side of the Atlantic, brown bag meetings are a pretty common thing among start-ups and other smaller organizations, but it actually was the first time that it happened at OpenClassrooms so everybody was curious about what was going to happen. And as I have gotten to know the organization during the last couple of months, it had ‘success’ written all over it. Let me tell you how and why.

What exactly is a ‘Brown Bag Meeting’?

A brown bag meeting, also referred to as a ‘Brown Bag Session’ or a ‘Lunch and Learn’, can be described as “a structured social gathering during an organizational lunch time period which is used specifically for the purpose of transferring knowledge, building trust, social learning, problem solving, establishing networking or brain storming”.

While this description might sound a little bit too scientific, it basically comes down to grabbing lunch, bringing it back to the office (hence the brown bag) and enjoying an informing and inspiring talk about… whatever! Personally, I always enjoy a good presentation, but what’s extra nice is that in France, having lunch doesn’t mean grabbing a quick sandwich but it means actually having a proper dinner like you would in the evening.

This, combined with the fact that OpenClassrooms’ office is located in the part of Paris with the highest density of eateries, makes it a beautiful occasion to enjoy a good meal in the comfortable surroundings of the office, while being entertained by someone’s presentation in the meantime! 

paper-bag-297223_960_720And even though this sounds very simple, brown bag meetings serve a bigger purpose besides having a nice lunch with provided entertainment. Throughout the years, they have become known to have several other benefits, such as:

  • Increasing employee engagement
  • Improving communication skills
  • Deeper understanding of topics
  • Fostering organizational culture
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Encouraging ongoing learning

As you can see, brown bag meetings are a pleasant way to improve the organization as a whole, but the fact that such a meeting happens while eating lunch implies that it takes place during your unpaid lunchtime. This might be a bit of a deal breaker for some employees, as lunch breaks tend to be precious. That being the case, it needs to be clear to everybody that these meetings can indeed have an added value.

How does a Brown Bag Meeting become a success?

Having lunch with each other is always nice, but in order to make a brown bag meeting a recurring event instead of just a one time thing, you need to make sure that it is carried out properly so people understand its added value and fully utilize the benefits. Therefore, the following tips might help you maximize such a meeting’s potential:

  • Limit content: A brown bag meeting works best when there is a limited amount of content. Keep your content to no more than two-thirds of the time you scheduled so the extra one-third can be used to answer questions, make additional examples and so forth.
  • Focus on content: Obviously, but it should be stated. Generally, for your audience, there are few really important features of your presentation so trim it down to the essentials, allowing participants to process them and not be overwhelmed.
  • Branch out from what is known: This is really important. Because the meeting is short, participants need to be able to follow you right away. Therefore, start with what they know and build on that.
  • Keep it casual: Never forget that people are taking time away from their job or break to attend this meeting! So don’t expect everybody to show up perfectly on time and don’t expect the same behaviour as in a normal meeting because it simply won’t happen. Just make sure you have time to cover what you want to cover and try to keep it light.

What might be even more important, is that such a meeting has to be facilitated by a supportive organizational culture. For example, if the organization is not familiar with these kinds of initiatives, people may not want to put in effort to show up and you might find yourself giving the presentation to your lunch bag. It could also be that they feel obligated to show up but don’t want to participate.

How did it go at OpenClassrooms?

It was nice to see a lot of people show up during the first brown bag-meeting at OpenClassrooms and I think it says a lot about the company as a whole. For example, it indicates that people want to learn, even though it might not even be that important to their personal job. It also shows that people are well-willing and appreciate the effort others make to organize such a meeting.Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 14.54.51

However, some companies choose to make brown bag meetings a mandatory thing, which to me seems like they’re missing the point. The whole idea behind such a meeting is that it’s informal and spontaneous, and if you have to force it, it’s worthless.

At OpenClassrooms, people weren’t only paying attention, they were actively asking questions and seemed to be really into it, which of course is a big encouragement for others to host a meeting as well. In my opinion, brown bag meetings should be a product of the culture and when you have to impose, the organization is simply not ready for it.

I think brown bag meetings are a beautiful thing. It shows initiative and it’s great to see how initiative can be rewarded. Besides, it’s an indication that people are comfortable within the organization and this thought alone might be more important than the content of the meeting itself. Since the first brown bag meeting, people told me they were planning on doing the same thing, which is a great sign. I definitely will be attending because who knows, maybe I can steal their presentation and turn it into a blogpost!

Interested in learning more about OpenClassrooms behind the scenes? Make sure to keep checking out our posts and don’t hesitate to leave a comment or suggestions!

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