Don’t Wait, Do it Yourself: How We Started Our Own Staff Led Brown Bag Sessions

An engaged and connected team is paramount to fostering culture in a workplace. We know this. You know this. But how you get there, is often the biggest struggle.

We’ve learned that you can’t force engagement, or connectedness. You can hire a seasoned team to initiate events, town halls, and internal campaigns — but sometimes, it’s the events that happen on their own without any official direction that bring the best results. So we took the lead, and created our own brown bag sessions to become more connected as a team. Because Slack is great for sharing ideas, but it’s not always enough.

What happened next, surprised us. What started as a small lunch hour gathering where we talked about random events and interests — grew to include everyone at our firm (from designers, to technologists, developers, strategists, planners, and client services) across all of our offices, and garnered support from our executive leadership team in the process. Here’s how we did it:

We started small.

Our technology team wanted to geek out over new things and talk about our projects, together. We didn’t think we were creating brown bag sessions that would eventually include our entire digital design firm. So, our origins were small. Just one team, all in the same office.

We’re a collaborative office; we might not always work on the same projects together, but we definitely lunch together and play ping pong together. As soon as we started talking about what we were doing, more people were interested. So we sent an invite to the office. We didn’t invite the executive leadership team or HR. That wasn’t necessarily intentional — but it just happened that way. We wanted this to feel organic, and ours.

We created an interesting agenda.

We invited anyone who was interested in presenting a session, to present… and on anything. The ideas kept coming, so we scheduled Friday lunches as far as our agenda would take us. Because this was staff-led, collaborative, and not dictated or forced — people actually joined in, excitedly. We didn’t place any restrictions on topics. Here are a few from the list:

Scaling Images
Shark Diving
Beer Making
VR Prototype
Women in Tech Festival
Poetry reading
Nerd stuff. Warhammer How To
Digital Painting in Photoshop
When (or when not) To Use a Javascript Framework
Coffee. The Right Way.

Sure we’re talking about random, entertaining topics but we’re also sharing skills and experiences.

We didn’t need to ask for approval.

We decided to host these over lunch, as completely optional brown bag sessions. That didn’t require any sort of resourcing, scheduling, or approvals. We were simply lunching together, in the same place.

Our leadership team listens, joins in, but doesn’t lead.

This might be the most important takeaway. Our leadership team heard about these staff-led brown bag sessions and decided that, rather than step in and take the lead for business updates, to instead step back and support from afar. Initially, they considered both approaches. They asked questions, and they listened. In the end, they saw the value in this completely organic initiative that grew into something big on its own. And of course they’re invited to present a session if they’d like. We’d love to hear our CEO talk about his playlist, or our EVP talk about her life outside the office. But until then, we’ll keep doing what we do, and building a team of engaged, connected, and inspired minds who really, truly enjoy working together and learning from each other.

Our Brown Bag sessions were started by Kevin So, Technology Director at Level, a purpose-driven digital design firm. Follow us on Instagram for a glimpse of #thelevellife.
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