Years ago one of my cousins who had worked in the United States brought back an idea called the "brown bag" lunch. Essentially in a busy workplace with inherent difficulties of finding time for meetings and updates, his colleagues met over lunchtime to share learnings from work they were engaged in or industry conferences and seminars they had attended. It was workplace learning shared by and for professionals.
I suppose a more recent development is the growth of "meet-ups" where other professionals organise activity or learning sessions online, agree on topics and speakers and then meet at a convenient venue to share expertise. A quick look at the meet-up website shows that there is plenty going on around Belfast.
Isn't it interesting how some people extend their professionalism to learn more about the things that interest them? It reminds me of way back in my career when I was seconded as an assistant organiser to a Teachers' Centre. In those heady days of virtually on demand in-service training it was possible to organise short, sharp-focused INSET on a give-an-hour/take-an-hour basis. Using that model, colleagues would be facilitated to leave work an hour ahead of finishing time provided that they stayed on for an extra hour at the training session. I know these sessions were valued, perhaps because of their quid pro quo nature and also because the values of cooperation and mutual support underpinned the process.
FastCompany magazine runs a section called Work-Smart. In a recent piece on encouraging employees to be entrepreneurs as a means to "create an incredible place to work" writer Laura Vanderkam lists the brown bag lunch as one HR problem solved. It is, she suggests, a means of showing people that they are valued not just for the stuff they do 9 to 5 but outside those hours as well.
I think it's brilliant to demonstrate that value in workplaces. I vividly recall being in two where staff's interests and passions were on display. In one case the organisation had put on display in its lobby items created by its people - paintings, models, tapestries, dresses, fashion accessories, photos of staff in various hobbies and pursuits, poems, books and music written and performed. Brilliant.
In another example much closer to home the organisation organised a poetry week and encouraged staff who wrote poems to submit them for circulation. The pieces were collected, framed and displayed on landings and walls all over the building. You really got to know staff members after that. Their creativity was there for all to see; an open invitation to bring it into the workplace. No such thing as thinking from the neck down or leaving part of you at home.
Food for thought?
So have you ever experienced learning through a brown bag lunch? What topics did you consider? Would you do it again? And if you haven't experienced one, could you be the catalyst and organise one for your workplace?