A lunch & learn program is a great way to foster community and continuous learning in your organization as well as to demonstrate your commitment to the ongoing growth and development of your employees. A more casual alternative to formal training and seminars, the best lunch & learns become an integral part of the culture — and a tasty perk that everyone looks forward to.

If you have some remote employees or an entirely virtual workforce, you might think this isn’t something that can work for you. But in fact, when your team isn’t together in the same location very often, the need for shared community is even greater. So don’t discount the idea out of hand. You just might have to get a bit more creative about how you execute on it.

Thinking about starting a lunch & learn program, or looking for some inspiration to freshen up your existing program? Here are 10 tips for putting together an appetizing combo:

  1. Schedule it: Whether you want to hold lunch & learns monthly, weekly or quarterly, stick to a consistent time and day of the week. This makes it easier for them to become part of employees’ regular routine.
  2. Get organized: Lunch & learns should be casual, but don’t just wing it. While it doesn’t need to be as structured as a formal training class, you still need to plan the topic, presenter, agenda, materials and, of course, the food in advance.
  3. Make it relevant: Once you’ve got a schedule in place, you need to know what you’re going to talk about. Solicit suggestions directly, or conduct a quick online survey to help prioritize ideas and also to find out if people have topics they’d like to present. If your team focuses on different issues each quarter — say, sales and negotiation skills or consultative selling strategies and best practices — go ahead and plan those into the schedule.
  4. Have fun with it: Treat the planning process as a chance to stretch your imagination. Pizzas and pie charts, market sandwiches and market trends, tacos and tech tools…who knows what you might come up with? If you don’t consider yourself to be a “creative type,” then this is an especially important opportunity for you to practice and get more comfortable flexing your creative thinking muscles.
  5. Use it strategically: Continuous learning is critical for reinforcing training and building commitment to change, but too often it seems as though there’s never enough time for those vital follow-up activities. Lunch & learns are a perfect opportunity to reinforce sales and negotiation skills or other concepts from prior training sessions and make sure new behaviors stick.
  6. Hype it up: Some organizations we work with will brand the lunch & learn series so they really get attention and make an impact. At the very least, send emails, post flyers and/or use other communication methods to generate excitement. For each session, provide an overview of the topic, why people should attend, 3 to 4 bullet points of what they’ll learn, and other teasers to encourage attendance.
  7. Make it interactive: This shouldn’t be a lecture punctuated by clinking silverware and chewing. To keep people interested and focused on the learning as well as the lunch, use YouTube videos, music, games and other media. Find movie clips that demonstrate those sales and negotiation skills you want people to remember and apply — and maybe mix in a few funny not-to-dos. Interactivity keeps people engaged, and it keeps them coming back.
  8. Get creative with remote employees: Videoconferencing has come a long way over the past several years, and if you have remote staff, these kinds of tools are probably already part of their work processes anyway, so use them to your advantage. Think about how you can use all of the resources and apps at your disposal. For example, if your team uses Slack, you might trying setting up a #lunchandlearn channel. For the lunch aspect, you can always go the “brown bag” route, or consider food delivery or gift cards of an equivalent amount.
  9. Don’t get stuck in a rut: Switch up the format to keep it interesting. One month you might have someone present a client case study, while the next, a vendor might discuss healthy habits on the road, and the next might be a refresher on the CRM system. Invite a leader to come in and talk about how the company’s vision and values apply to daily work. Try some activities to help people discover their powerful purpose, both in their personal and professional lives.
  10. Keep the buzz going: Think ahead about how you’ll follow up after the lunch & learn to keep the momentum alive. You might want to create a summary of questions and answers from the session, share photos of people in action, recap those key sales and negotiation skills and tips, or just provide a general overview along with the presentation materials. The main thing is to keep the discussion going and make it something people won’t want to miss out on in the future.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on serving up your own lunch & learn series. Are there opportunities to include virtual training and in-person learning into the schedule?

As you review them, think about what will work best to meet the needs of your team, your work environment, and your employee learning and engagement goals.

No matter what learning initiatives you implement, coaching is the critical factor for achieving breakthrough growth, lasting behavior change and fully realized potential in your people. Find out how you can make coaching really happen in your organization.


About the Author
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Joyce Hames

Vice President, Client Engagement

Joyce is an accomplished professional with 30 years of demonstrated expertise in management development, classroom facilitation, sales and service quality....
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