Brown Bag Sessions: Yes, your team should have them

brown bag session Range

Sometimes the best way to get results and draw out new insights involves a formal event: an off-site retreat, a catered lunch, a half-day seminar, you get the idea.

But there are plenty of times when that sort of thing just isn’t possible. You might not have the budget for it, or your team might be scattered across hundreds of miles and multiple time zones.

That’s where the brown bag session comes in.

If you’re looking for an informal meeting strategy that’s versatile enough to accommodate numerous objectives (including building a positive team culture and strengthening that culture over time), then the brown bag session meeting concept is worth exploring.

The 4 types of brown bag meetings

Once you determine a reason for conducting a brown bag meeting, you’ll need to define and communicate what type of meeting you’re conducting. Brown bag sessions can have different functions, and attendees will need to prepare differently for each.

Below are the four types. Be sure to communicate these expectations to all attendees so no one feels pressured or put on the spot — that would defeat the purpose of these informal meetings!

1. Seminar meeting

A seminar meeting involves a single speaker or presenter sharing knowledge with the group. It’s the least collaborative style, though a Q&A at the end is common.

Seminar meetings are a great way to introduce a new topic or technology or to train a group in something everyone can use (such as building a healthier developer culture). Seminar meetings can also cover topics unrelated to job roles, from hobby groups to retirement planning.

2. Small group meeting

A small group meeting involves a small amount of prep work. Attendees will answer questions in front of each other, which usually works best when people know the questions ahead of time. These are great moments for problem-solving, team building, and sharing perspectives. Expect a healthy discussion of people’s answers.

3. Combination meeting

A combination brown bag session combines the first two types. During these meetings, an expert or leader presents solo, after which individuals contribute their answers to one or more predefined questions.

4. Social meeting

Icebreakers, team-building activities, and just plain social lunches all have a place in building the camaraderie that teams need to succeed and trust one another.

A social brown bag meeting could look like a department lunch in the courtyard (or over Zoom) or a team lunch where work discussions are off-limits. These can be a great way for team members to learn about each other as people, not just producers and performers.

How do you run a brown bag session?

Running an informal meeting with no real prep sounds simple enough, but it’s certainly possible for lunch and learns to go poorly. Stick with these tips to make your next brown bagger successful.

  1. Keep it informal

If you’re like most businesses, you have plenty of formal meetings. And if you’re in leadership, you probably run quite a few of them. It’s easy to fall into default mode and try to control the brown bag session.

Avoid this temptation. When you keep it informal, you encourage more open participation and may draw out ideas and opinions that would’ve otherwise stayed hidden.

2. Avoid a formal agenda

Much like the previous point, setting a formal agenda is a surefire way to inject formality into these meetings, which are supposed to be pretty informal.

3. Create a comfortable space for open communication

Part of the reason for keeping brown bag sessions informal is that you want to draw out ideas from people who might otherwise stay silent. Doing this requires making people comfortable enough to open up.

Be open to new ideas, even if that means hearing about someone’s random hobby for a little longer than you’d like. Because if you shut down the hobby conversation, you probably shut down the work one, too.

Benefits of brown bag sessions

So, what are the benefits of these sessions (beyond learning what everyone likes to bring for lunch)? It turns out there are quite a few benefits of brown bag meetings.

  1. Promotes 2-way communication

Many organizations hear complaints about needing better communication. It’s often hard to parse what exactly people want, though. Often, it’s just as much about being heard as it is about hearing more from the top leadership.

Informal sessions are one way to promote this kind of two-way communication. Even more than usual, leaders should listen during these events and resist the urge to talk or direct.

2. Increases team morale

One of the perks of holding a brown bag seminar is building team morale. When you help employees through informal training during the lunch break, one of the takeaways is that you care about your company culture. Knowing this can add a boost of morale to any workday.

3. Inspires creativity

Formal meetings over video or in the conference room aren’t always the most inspiring things and can even put a damper on creativity. But when people are engaging casually (and enjoying their own food!), it’s much easier for the creative juices to flow.

4. Strengthens team relationships

Social brown bag lunch meetings can do so much for team relationships. Knowing even a little bit about teammates outside their job context helps humanize team members to one another and may even lead to workplace friendships.

Brown bag session topics

Looking for inspiration to help you launch new (or better) brown bag sessions? Here are a few to get you started:

  • Informal lunch-and-learn seminars on health and wellness topics (keep Human Resources in the loop for compliance and propriety)
  • Informative seminars about retirement plans or optional insurance coverages
  • Industry change discourse with an expert guest speaker
  • Time management strategies or efficiency “hacks”

If your remote or hybrid team is already feeling “Zoom fatigue,” try these research-backed strategies before adding more informal video meetings to the mix.

Host constructive meetings with Range

Hosting meaningful brown bag sessions can make a big difference for your teams. But doing them well with remote teams can be a little challenging.

The right toolkit makes all the difference for hybrid, distributed, and remote team leaders.

Range is the premier platform for synchronous and asynchronous remote meetings, and it’s the perfect tool for conducting effective, productive brown bag sessions.

With meetings in Range, you can:

  • Easily facilitate balanced discussions that make every meeting worthwhile
  • Keep everyone included and on track with much less effort.
  • Build agendas, record actions, and share notes automatically
  • Create a recurring agenda for all the topics your team discusses every week from metrics to project updates.
  • Empower discussion by building a collaborative agenda & spinning to select others to speak
  • Easily document notes from each topic to keep everyone in the loop.
  • Share notes via Slack & email

⭐️ Create a collaborative agenda & then share your meeting notes

⚡️Start fast with a Range meeting template

Brown Bag Session FAQs

Your questions answered

What is a brown bag session?Show/hide the answer

A brown bag session is a meeting that typically occurs over or during lunch and uses an informal and often collaborative approach.

It’s not a formal, catered affair: Attendees are expected to bring their own lunch (hence the “brown bag”) if they plan to eat during the meetup. Brown bag sessions tend to have a smaller, more social and intimate feel than the typical department or team meeting, which often helps to open up freer conversations and idea sharing.

If you’ve not come across the term before, don’t worry: The brown bag session goes by several other names. Some people call it a Lunch and Learn or even a Power Hour — just to name a few.

Whatever you call it, the basic concept is the same: These are informal gatherings, usually around lunchtime, often with team building, training and education, or socialization goals.

When should you have a brown bag session?Show/hide the answer

You can hold brown bag sessions anytime, but if you want people to have a chance at understanding the name, around lunch is your best bet. (An even better bet: call it something else!)

Beyond the time of day, you should consider a brown bag session for any scenario where an informal meeting could help.

Getting teams more comfortable with one another, presenting professional development information, and offering information or training that is useful outside the workplace are a few examples.

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Brown Bag Sessions: Yes, your team should have them
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