When you get the team together for an informal training session, the casual environment can encourage learning. Though a formal meeting has its place, a smaller, more social lunch meeting can loosen people up and freely share ideas. Plus, informal meetings are great for introducing brand-new topics and information. So without further ado, let’s unpack (pun intended) the informal training session commonly called a “brown bag meeting” or “lunch and learn.”

What is a brown bag meeting?

A brown bag meeting is an informal training session or meeting to which attendees bring their own food. Its name suggests you should hold it during lunch hour, but any time works. Sure, the term “brown bag” or “brown bag session” comes from everyone bringing their own lunch, but maybe your employees value their lunch breaks. In that case, afternoon snacks for a 3 p.m. meeting could work nicely. 

Now, the idea of brown-bagged lunches might take you back to grade school, with a literal paper bag containing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a note from mom. That’s kind of the point. It’s appropriate to think of school cafeterias here since brown-bag conference room meetings are laid back with a dash of education in the air. 

Lunch & learn

Use a shared meeting agenda so everyone can follow along and prepare for the meeting. Try a collaborative tool like Fellow!

Types of brown bag meetings

The brown bag meeting is full of possibilities – open up the bag, and you never know what’s inside. And just as everyone might bring their own lunch, so too can each meeting look a bit different. Here are the most common types of brown bag meetings.

1 Seminar meeting

The seminar brown bag meeting involves a guest speaker who has a conversation with your team. Afterward, your team typically gets a short question and answer session with the speaker. You should encourage your team to ask questions, or they can simply open their brown paper bags and dig into a feast of knowledge. 

2 Small group meeting

In small group meetings, your team members answer questions you’ve defined beforehand. Everyone is welcome to participate, and the group will discuss all the topics. The goal is less about learning from one specific person and more about problem-solving and exploring different perspectives on something. 

3 Combination meeting

Small group meetings are great on their own, but what if you want a little of both? Enter: combination brown bag lunch meetings. These meetings start as a seminar with one person speaking, then end with a small group meeting. Your team members can break into smaller groups after the seminar and then reunite to share their thoughts.

4 Social meeting

Purely social, this brown bag meeting lets everyone just chat and get to know each other over lunch. It’s a simple team-building meeting that involves only a booked conference room and a few laughs. And while you’re at it, feel free to invite other departments and teams to mingle too. 

Benefits of brown bag meetings

Brown bag meetings can encourage inter-departmental bonding, discussions, and learning. They’re a fantastic way to share information and keep your team members feeling inspired at work instead of eating lunch behind a screen. Their benefits include the below.

1 Getting a conversation going 

When going through the motions at work, things can occasionally feel uninspiring. A great spark can be learning from fellow colleagues. Bringing different perspectives into a room to chat about together can be a fun and engaging way to connect. Plus, conversations like these can be an effective way to get everyone’s thoughts on a big topic. 

2 Inspire teamwork

Teamwork really does make the dream work, as cliche as it sounds. So motivating everyone to  participate and work together to solve a problem or discuss something important can drive collaboration. The result is new ideas for your team to consider in its work. 

3 Boost morale

People are social creatures, and there’s a difference between being on a team and genuinely feeling support from coworkers. A company culture that encourages interaction outside the typical work stuff can make people excited to come to work. It can also help them grow as people and professionals. 

4 Strengthen team’s mission and values

All companies have a mission statement or values that come up in the hiring process. Often, though, these principles get lost in the daily hustle and bustle. Brown bag meetings can be great for getting everyone back on the same page as values go. They can help you reinforce what everyone is working toward beyond the daily stuff like paperwork and Excel spreadsheets. 

5 Share ideas 

The higher up someone is in a company, the more influence they have. At the same time, higher-ups don’t always get ideas from the folks lower on the corporate ladder. With ideas only flowing down, not up, you could miss out on fresh and innovative solutions to big problems. So try gathering different departments to problem-solve at a brown bag meeting. Doing so can help people feel heard and motivate them to do their best work. 

Common topics for brown bag meetings

There are plenty of topic ideas for lunch and learns, but below are some popular ones to get you dreaming of top-notch team bonding. Here are some ways you can get started with your first brown bag meetings. 

  • Learn about new tech 

There’s always new technology cropping up that your team could use. Try focusing your brown bag meeting agenda on helpful software and training everyone on how to use it. Doing so gets everyone on track with software that can help everyone in the room do their best. 

  • Living a healthy lifestyle 

We all know that desk jobs can pose health challenges. How can you strike a meaningful work-life balance? What is all that sitting doing to your posture? There are so many ways to combat this issue, and getting your team together to share some thoughts can help. Perhaps your brown bag seminar meeting can be a presentation on tips for avoiding workplace burnout. You could also discuss the importance of setting boundaries with your work email after-hours. 

  • Changes to safety procedures 

Brown bag meetings are a great place to share news with everyone all at once. That makes brown bag meetings a great way to discuss important updates to your safety protocols. After all, safety is a universal topic, and brown bag meetings include everyone.

  • Looking ahead at retirement 

If you offer retirement benefits, your team might not actually know how to invest well. A seminar brown bag meeting with an expert presentation on retirement planning can be super helpful in that case. Try bringing in someone from the company that administers your benefits to speak with the whole team. 

  • Discuss incentive programs 

A lunch and learn session about your organization’s incentive programs can often increase your team’s motivation. It can remind them of things like spot bonuses, rewards, and other sweet perks they might have forgotten. Once they know about them again, you can expect them to do more – and do it better. 

  • Networking guidance 

Networking is important in any field and for any person. A combination brown bag meeting about networking can remind your team why networking still matters even if they love their role at your organization. It can then include time for practicing key networking skills in small groups after the presentation. 

Brown bag it for your next internal meeting 

Whether purely social or about an important subject, brown bag meetings can be stress-free and cost-efficient. They can help you with team building, collaboration, team-wide education, and so much more. And Fellow can be your team’s hub for all your brown bag meeting agendas, action items, and feedback. Its tools can make your brown bag meetings a smash hit with productive and fun plans for success that everyone can build together.