8 Tips for Effective Lunch and Learns

Lunch and learns are a way for companies to promote less formal learning and knowledge sharing. While they are straightforward to run mechanically, a few things can make or break the success of the program.

October 5, 2021
min read

Lunch and learns are a way for companies to promote less formal learning and knowledge sharing. While they are straightforward to run mechanically, a few things can make or break the success of the program.

What is a lunch and learn?

A lunch and learn is an informal training session, typically done over lunch (hence the name). They are generally more casual and informal than the standard work meeting. Importantly it is not just a meeting where lunch is served. The goal should be educational, but also with some fun.

1. Have clear goals

What do you hope to get out of this? Answers might include upskilling employees, having fun, increasing engagement, or promoting interaction between people from different teams. It could be more than one answer and that’s fine. Whatever it is, be clear about it. If it’s promoting interactions between people from different teams, then just having people zoom in and listen to a talk isn’t going to be as helpful as a more interactive session.

Note that if you need to roll out training or knowledge to everyone in a group, whether a department or an entire organization, I don’t recommend using lunch and learns. You can use training sessions, and you can serve lunch, but don’t call it a lunch and learn (we’ll come back to this later).

2. Have an owner

Make sure someone owns this. HR is a logical choice, but it could be anyone. Someone needs to make sure events get lined up, rooms get reserved, and anything needed gets ordered. Additionally, I wouldn’t launch unless I can find at least five people offering sessions. If there’s not that level of interest, five people volunteering or five people you have contacted who have committed to doing them, then whoever owns it will be struggling to create events and it will quickly die on the vine.

3. Be predictable

Set a regular time and keep a regular cadence. Maybe it’s the first Thursday of the month at noon. Or every other Wednesday at 2pm. Once a month or every other week is usually a good cadence, although larger companies may have enough people or interest to do it weekly. Whatever schedule you set, other than exceptions for holidays, try to stick with it so people can have it on their calendars. Better yet, send the recurring calendar invite to the team so they have it on their calendars already.

You might choose to have a schedule of types of events within a month or a quarter. Perhaps the first talk of the quarter is always about the industry, the second is technical, or every fourth talk is always purely for fun.

4. Make them useful & timely

A lunch and learn on feedback techniques might be most useful shortly before annual reviews. One of my team did a talk on how to build a BBQ in your backyard, that fits in better over the summer, rather than winter. While fun ones, like building a BBQ, can just be a diversion, for those more practical try to ensure that there’s a key takeaway or action item. Ideally have a follow-up email or a handout so people don’t just forget it as they walk into their next meeting. Be explicit on how this can help them (and put that in the announcement for it).

5. Have food

Food makes it different from most other meetings. If your company can afford it, bring in lunch. If you have remote people, have the company provide lunch reimbursement for them. It’s ok if you can’t buy lunch and everyone brings their own, although even buying dessert or donuts for the event just helps to make it feel like not yet another meeting. You can also do midafternoon Coffee and Comprehension, Drink and Think, Tea and Topic, Beer and Bemusement, or pretty much any other branding you can come up with, offering just coffee and / or snacks. Food is helpful since it makes it more casual and helps with bonding between people.

6. Keep it casual

Keep lunch and learns less formal than other events. If lunch and learns are mandatory and used for corporate training it’s not a lunch and learn, spiritually speaking, it’s a meeting with lunch served. You may have such meetings, say for annual compliance training, but brand those as separate from lunch and learns. Emails and meetings for lunch and learns should be labeled as “Lunch and Learn” and other events should not use that phrase.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use lunch and learns for learning work related things, just make sure they’re not mandatory or you lose the casual side of it. I’d recommend going further and mixing in some fun activities. The fun activities will encourage people to come and if they come for the fun ones, they’ll get in the habit of coming to some of the more mundane ones. At the very least they’ll have the time kept open on the calendar.

Examples of corporate topics might include things like:

  • What to look for in a vendor contract
  • Using the IT ticketing system
  • Secrets of excel macros
  • How to write effective emails
  • Industry trends overview
  • Take away from <an industry event>
  • 401k investment planning

Examples of non-corporate topics are often fun topics or personal hobbies:

  • My two years in the peace corps
  • How to build a brick BBQ
  • Surfing around the world
  • Counting cards in blackjack
  • Gingerbread house building
  • Meditation
  • Introduction to competitive fencing

Often the more random the better. And food choices can tie into the theme.

7. Be interactive

One of the advantages of these events is that they bring together people from different teams who might not otherwise interact. Whether it’s a formal goal or not, try to make sure people engage with each other and don’t just listen to the speaker and leave.

At a travel company I worked at, we used to do travel trivia, which was by far our most popular event in the lunch and learn series. It was about 25 questions that included identifying locations of landmarks, guessing countries, knowing airport codes, and other fun trivia questions. The winners got a prize and had the honor of making the trivia contest the next time that was up in the lunch and learn rotation. To encourage cross-team interactions the game was played in pairs, but you had to pair with someone outside your department.

If there’s a way to have any type of activity for all or part of it, other than just listening to the presenter, it’s a great change of pace from the usual daily routine of corporate meetings. And if it has attendees interacting with each other, it actively breaks down corporate silos.

8. Use experts

You have plenty in your company, but it’s ok to bring in outsiders. You may already have financial advisors, health practitioners or others come in to talk to the company (oftentimes vendors in those spaces offer free talks to promote their brand). Bringing in outsiders is a great way to mix up topics. (One legal note: for financial services, health, legal, and other regulated industries, make sure the presenter is appropriately credentialed.)

Lunch and learns are a tool for your organization, so make it work for you. There’s no wrong way to do a lunch and learn, but a few key things often make it more successful: ownership of the program, regular meeting and branding, a mixture of fun and corporate topics. Ideally it will also allow people from different teams to interact with each other.

I’d love to hear your success (or failure) stories. If you’re looking for more formal training programs be sure to check out The Career Toolkit Development Program (free) on the resources page of The Career Toolkit website.

Mark A. Herschberg
See also

How to Earn $30,000 in 30 Minutes or Less

How learning to negotiate can add five or even six figures to your lifetime career earnings. Once you read this, you’ll be kicking yourself as to why you didn’t learn to do this sooner.

September 14, 2021
min read
Read full article

If This Is So Important, Why Didn’t They Teach It to Me?

Have people told you networking is important? What about communication, teamwork, and leadership? For all the lip service given them, how much formal education did you have on such essential skills? Probably little, if any. What are these skills and why haven't they been taught to students?

September 7, 2021
min read
Professional Development
Professional Development
Read full article

The Career Toolkit shows you how to design and execute your personal plan to achieve the career you deserve.