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What is Corporate Brown Bagging?

This premise will probably raise an eyebrow or two, but it’s worth considering.

Here goes: You don’t need to leave the building when you have a lunch appointment with colleagues. Better yet, your company’s overall internal communications will IMPROVE significantly if you hold a group meeting and ask the attendees to “brown bag” it.

Yes, you read that right. Understood, you are not used to hearing about brown bagging within a corporate scenario, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong—in fact, there’s everything RIGHT–with setting up a corporate meeting where attendees either bring their own lunch or where you have it catered so that the participants can meet eye-to-eye.

Let’s look at the reasoning behind a brown bagging meeting:  your objective when holding ANY meeting is to do one thing, and one thing only, and that’s to communicate effectively.

The same holds true for a lunch appointment.

You don’t NEED to socialize, either, although that’s a welcome part of an effective meeting.

And you don’t NEED to get anything SPECIFIC accomplished.

If we combine the looseness of a luncheon date and the agenda of a focus group, we come up with the idea of a brown bagging event.

Remember when your grade school teacher announced that the next day was to be “trade your lunch day”?  Sure you do. Who wouldn’t recall how your mom packed your lunch–an extra-special version of your usual peanut butter and jelly deluxe, or of whatever the most appetizing sandwich selection was at your house–in a shoe box, so that it could be exchanged with another student during a “blind swap”?

The objective – and a very intelligent one it was, too – was to experience the different cultures and foods of students your age.   Once you had all exchanged shoe box lunches, the school bell clanged and you sat down to partake, exclaiming over your surprise lunches.

Pronouncements such as: “What’s THIS?”  and “What did YOU get?”filled the cafeteria air.

The food was consumed and a good time was had by all.  At the end of the hour, when the lunch bell clanged again, everyone’s belly was full, and they had experienced something they may never have experienced otherwise.

Well, when you brown-bag it at work, you arrange to do something along those very lines.  You get to sit down and hobnob; you’re a few inches from someone who is suddenly very human, as they sit there wiping crumbs from their chin.  And that’s a GOOD thing.

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your own informal brown bag get-together:

  1. You’ll be discussing best practices in your workplace at lunch; make sure that the conversation doesn’t ever veer entirely off topic.  Allot enough time on your schedule for roughly an hour-and-a- half from start to finish. You’ll commence loose and informal in your dialogue but, in the main, you are looking to COMMUNICATE and, as you guys will be dialoguing about better ways to run the workplace and to meet your staffers’ needs, there should be massive brainstorming going on during the hour-and- a-half lunch session.  Be prepared to take notes.
  2. A week before the lunch, stop by all your company’s departments and decide who will make an apt spokesperson for their group. Note:  there will be many such candidates, but for this first brown-bagging event, because you have to start somewhere, select two staffers and explain to those employees who will not be attending the brown bagging lunch that there will be plenty of other times for them to voice the department’s concerns in their own manner.
  3. If management feels better about not having the distraction of everyone having to pack and bring their own lunch, have the brown bagging event catered. Perhaps you can arrange for the cafeteria staff, if there is one, to do the honors. They will provide cleaning services afterwards.
  4. Inform attendees that they will be expected to take their own trays to nearby bins which will have been set up. The purpose of this is to end the meeting on a more collaborative and service-oriented note.
  5. Encourage the taking of notes during the meeting; sometimes there are doodlers among the participants – it helps them to focus AND to relax – but there are usually many note takers. Don’t mention bringing any prepared reports or lists, however.  It’s important that there not be any overly formalized or structured format.  You don’t want to have this turn into just another agenda-laden meeting.
  6. Keep it spontaneous. The idea is to focus on exchanging ideas, much like a laid-back focus group. If anything, MANAGEMENT will go away with a bit of homework; they will have done the most listening.
  7. Do not forget to include one or more members of top management. If you can get the CEO to attend, all the better!  If not, try to enlist the aid of the President or of an Executive VP.  If you are running into a stone wall when presenting the idea to the executive’s gate keeper (“His/her agenda is simply too busy to schedule an hour and a half,” might be an excuse you hear) explain that it’ll help keep the company’s internal workings well-oiled.  If management is listening to employees one-on-one and is tapped into their gripes and concerns (and commendations), overall productivity and quality of work will go up by several notches.

Why?  It’s the old venting principal.  If you’ve ever had a legitimate concern, and, rather than walking around with it unspoken and instead of kvetching among fellow workers, you were provided with an appropriate sounding board and were told that your opinion was important enough to be considered, wouldn’t you feel like a valuable and valued cog in the wheel of your company?

That’s the premise behind having top management sit in front of some of its employees.

  1. To avoid chaos, people should take turns speaking. The person who is putting this brown bagging event together will see to it that all goes smoothly. They will act as the moderator of sorts.  Attendees can raise their hands if they have something to add to the meeting.  The moderator may decide to hold comments down to two minutes so that everyone gets a turn.

At the end of a brown bagging event, you and your colleagues will– much as you did when you were trading school lunches in shoe boxes–have experienced something you might not have experienced otherwise, and, hopefully, your appetite for a fresh form of communication between employee and employer will have been whetted.

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