It is the time to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the Brown Bag sessions I have been running at Challenger since joining. I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on this experience.

Is your lunch bag also brown?

A Brown Bag meeting is an informal meeting that occurs in the workplace generally around lunchtime. The name Brown Bag is referred to lunches which are often packed in brown paper bags.
brownbag

Do not hesitate to run Brown Bags! Why?

The reasons why any company should run Brown Bag sessions are vast and here are some of the most important ones.

  • Learning can fulfills the aspiration

Learning is the key of engagement and motivation in everybody's life. Once you stop the chain of learning, gradually boredom might appear in different aspects of life.
If you see someone feels terrible on Sunday nights complaining about another boring day at work on Monday, don't doubt that the learning cycle has slowed or even stopped for that person. Learning increased personal productivity which leads to company's productivity.
According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), companies that offer comprehensive training programs have 218% higher income per employee than companies without training.
We all know how common it is for employees to leave if they don’t receive the necessary training to do well in their positions. Research shows that a full 40% of employees who don’t receive the necessary job training to become effective will leave their positions within the first year.
Simply, engagement is the emotional state that employees feel towards the organization’s they work for. To be fully engaged, employees need to be productive and feel that the company care about their work and are invested in their future. Brown Bags can certaily create this pure feeling.

  • BrownBag VS other trainings methods

Brown Bag is potentially one of the most effective tools in the learning process for the reasons below. Brown Bag is:

  • Spontaneous way of activating learning processes in companies.
  • Not part of people's KPI, employees are not forced or expected to attend.
  • An interesting way of collaborating in the learning process amongst employees.
  • Not like some conferences that people only attend once a year to spend time outside the company; it is a genuine active way of expressing interest in learning new stuff.
  • Reducing knowledge gaps in the company

Kowledge gaps are a barrier of moving towards having feature teams and cross team collaborations. Especially if you have many permanent resources, nothing is more important than training and encouraging them to learn.

  • Promoting the culture of sharing

One of the issues companies face, regarding the complex systems and products is that experts who know the system for long time would hesitate to share their knowledge with the rest, so they can maintain the power. Nowadays the is considered a dead culture but still some people consider it as power. The concept of Brown Bag can potentially help build up a new culture that promotes sharing and appreciate this value.

  • Wait for me! Don't go fast

In this modern and fast-growing world of IT, the pace of change is rapid and this can add additional stress on people in the industry. With such limited time, sometimes employees don't have an understanding of what they should learn and where to begin. Brown Bag is a consistent way (not a once a year conference) of getting to learn different topics and technologies. Converting your Mondays to an exciting and energetic day by participating in a lunch gathering, form your internal network, and learn.
I think the last thing anyone wants for their career to feel outdated, as if no other job is available to them, as if no other job matched their knowledge, and feel forced to stay with a company for years for lack of opportunities.

  • I belong to communities therefor I am

In our career, sometimes we ignore how important it is to be part of a community. Many people are part of different cultural and social communities but less people belong to professional communities. By joining external professional communities, you always feel supported. You can find these communities in user groups and meetups to participate and form your network.
Internal professional communities in companies are as important as external ones. Especially when the company works on component-based teams, the flow of information is challenged. So, having Brown Bags help people share their knowledges, thoughts and ideas beyond their small teams.

10 reasons why Brown Bag is successfull in Challenger?

Once I initiated the Brown Bag sessions a year a go, less than 10% of invitees RSVP'd. However, after a year around 60% RSVP. Not only have the number of attendees, but also their feedbacks are mostly great. Do you wonder why? Here are some success keys:

  1. Diverse topics
    The audience has always been considered when organising the speakers and content. The content is mainly IT-ish. However, not only have we had some cutting edge technologies and concepts, but also we'have had soft-skills sessions, personal development, career development, communications skills, agility, and innovations.
    This diversity covers broad range of tastes and make more people interested in joining.
  2. Safe place to learn:
    Our Brown Bag is always a safe place, and allow us to ask questions, and express what we don't know but would like to learn free of judgement.
  3. Great speakers
    Most of the speakers we invite were professional and active members of external communities. Even vendors were helpful and came present to us. We are really lucky to live in such a supportive society.
  4. Well received by company
    The sessions are always so casual and relaxing. Everyone sit together, from senior leaders to junior graduated employees, and eat lunch together while learning. Sometimes, Challenger provides simple food to help attendees take advantage of the time so they don't have to spend time buying food before or after the session.
    Attendees are incentivised to attend by managers although it is an optional gathering.
  5. Public speaking opportunity
    Initially attendees were more interested in listening to the talks, but after a while we invited internal speakers to take the opportunity to improve their public speaking and presentation skills. We found our attendees to be patient enough to listen to some talks even if they are not as exciting as the others, and everybody incorporate in encouraging others to speak up and overcome the fear of public speaking which is listed as number-one fear, before death.
  6. Extending external network
    Brown Bags bring the opportunity to meet up with new people outside the company, and hear other news and opportunities. What I found interesting was when Challenger employees identifed great topics and speakers for me, and then connecting with them.
  7. No sales pitch or hijacked sessions
    We invited a lot of vendors to the Brown Bags but none of us ever felt that we are in the sales pitch session. So, even when new products were introduced, it was with lots of technical knowledges, information, minus the sales pitch since the whole purpose, and goal of the Brown Bag is pure learning.
    Over time, the sessions have retained their original vision, and haven’t been hijacked to present projects, work-related problems, or be team-building workshops, etc. They genuinely are about broadening knowledge.
  8. Even one attendee is enough
    Although having more attendees in the Brown Bag increases joy and passion, I decided to run the brown bags even if there is just one attendee. So we never cancelled because there are not enough people make it.
  9. Frequency and continuous improvement
    The sessions are on suitable times, and they’re often at least once or twice a month. Everybody expects to get the invitation by Thursday if the session is to be hold on Monday and it always follows the same format.
    Seeking feedbacks by talking to people in person or sending them an email gives me a clear vision of what I think versus what other people think.

Why do I care about running BrownBags

  • Go & Change

With over 15 years of experience working in the IT industry, I learned that no one should sit and wait for changes to happen. I am the one who should be proactive and responsile for making changes that I need.

  • Enjoy expert teams around

So when people around you are knowledgeable, you will have greater opportunity to learn with ease. I appreciate people's attitude who simply come and share their knowledge that could take me countless hours to gain. Once you help a colleague to learn something new, they may one day add values by helping you to learn.
You can enjoy the level of knowledge and expertise in your company by supporting their learning.

  • Bottom-up approach

Making impacts especially bottom-up changes, is something that interests me.
If I want to introduce some technologies or culture to the company, I would not necessarily discuss this with a senior leader. I may introduce it to other people in the team first, and once I can prove it really is usefull, then my strength and power becomes tremendous since I have the support of other people, and sometimes they can articulate the benefits better than me.

  • What are you most proud of?

Other than all the above reasons ,seeing my colleagues more active, energetic, and motivated makes me feel proud of what I am doing and the impacts that I can make.
There is no doubt that I've learned about some great topics, how to run events, and how to care more about people.
It also inspired me to connect to more people in the community and greatly expand my network.
It also brought me the opportunity to be more visible and interact with almost every-one in my company outside my direct team. Clearly I improved my personal branding which may affect company branding.

How to find speakers?

This is the most common question I have been asked over last year. How do I find the speakers to present to us almost twice a month?

The answer is participating in external communities helps you build up your network.

However, if you want to get support from the community, you should be ready to help the community in return. It means whenever any friends ask me to join their BrownBag, meetup or user group, I try my best to help.
Also, attending conferences can be the most efficient way of networking. However, having the social skills to connect with people is even more important. You can potentially attend a conference and sit all day without talking to anyone, which doesn't add any value to our network.

Being connected with people on Twitter and Linkedin, and other professional social media sites, bring visibility of what you do, and what you aim to do. It is also helpful since there are many great people out there who are ready to offer help.

Brown Bag is an opportunity

  • Personal branding

If you have some skills to present in the Brown Bag please don't hesitate to connect with me or maybe other companies who are running Brown Bag.
Not only it is a great way to develop people in our community, but it is also a great opportunity for the speakers to practice and polish their presentation and technical skills.
Personally, as a speaker who likes to help the community, I see Brown Bags as a great opportunity to build personal branding, efficiently establish connections, and grow the network.
No need to remember that personal branding is not always personal. Sometimes a company's brand can attract people and sometimes employee's brands can attract other businesses, or even new recruits to the company.
Back in 2018 when we were looking for a test analyst, Challenger offered that contract job to one of our guest speakers who gave us a presentation on the same topic in one of our Brown Bags.

  • No more procrastination

I know that we are all busy, and time frames and expectations for projects can be hectic. But running the Brown Bags and their preparation does not take that much time, once you plan properly. In general, I don't think the problem is the lack of time for most us, but it is mostly lack of motivation and procrastination of good by tough things. It happened rarely that I was too busy to arrange a sessions at work then I sorted it at home. As long as you have life-work integration that would not hurt.

Final words
Once we recognise how impactful forming knowledge sharing community can be, we would absolutely make some time for that.
Please feel free to contact me if you needed any help on initiating Brown Bags in your company and you can count on my presenting some talks and introducing amazing people who are ready to help also. Thanks to all the awesome speakers who helped me run the Brown Bags over last year in Challenger company.