Engage Employees Through Lunch Networking

How to use networking lunches to engage employees

Looking for an innovative way to engage employees and drive innovation in 2013? Consider connecting employees through networking lunches. Employees who get away from their desks at lunch feel energized, focused and more productive. Plus employees who connect often learn from one another- regularly spurring new ideas.

How many of your employees eat at their desks on a regular basis? Do they take lunch at all? In 2010, The Energy Project found that more than 60 percent of respondents reported taking 20 minutes or less each day for lunch. Almost 20 percent took less than 10 minutes. One-quarter said they never leave their desks at all. They launched a “Take Back Your Lunch” initiative- “encouraging workers to step away from their computers and go out to lunch every Wednesday.” The phenomena quickly spread across the country.

David Thompson, scientist turned social media strategist, and Christopher Tan, mobile app developer, at Boehringer Ingelheim, (BIPI), teamed up to produce Lunch Roulette, a web application that randomly pairs employees for lunch dates. (What I love about this story is the lack of process that went into the development- there was no committee created, no business requirements sessions- they actually never met… they just did it!) Christopher created the app in 36 hours and they launched the program by sending an email to a select group of co-workers.

Over the last four months, more than 500 people in their US (Ridgefield, CT) office have participated. This success has led them to plan to launch Lunch Roulette in their German office this spring. Among the first 100 participants was BIPI’s CEO, who was matched with an early career profession in brand marketing. It’s too soon to point to specific innovations as a result of the program, but sparks are flying, networks are expanding and employees are being exposed to different perspectives. During his second match, Christopher lunched with a data base administrator who provided “very specific advice on how to improve the matching algorithm.” This lunch had an instant benefit and will most likely lead to continued idea generation and enhanced collaboration going forward.

The Lunch Roulette program is simple- participants select a date(s), choose the cafeteria and then click “Match Me” to be paired. Participants receive a calendar reminder via email. (It’s easy to set up- and they’re offering it for free- just send an email to info@lunchroulette.us.)

A lunch networking program can work in many different ways- 1:1 matches, group matches, or for those with a significant remote worker base, you could even include a “virtual lunch” match option. In addition, you could leverage informal networks, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or mentor programs to jump start participation. It’s important to have a critical mass of employees signed-up so that the matches are effective. To promote Lunch Roulette at BIPI, they created a short video clip and relied on word of mouth.

Meg Wherrity, former director at bitly, also developed a Lunch Roulette program and she has now joined forces with Thompson and Tan. At bitly, they paired 100 people in the organization randomly to improve the culture and have different departments meet. The program served to break down boundaries within the company and many continued to lunch together by choice. Meg is working with several conferences to offer the program, including Philly Tech Week in April of 2013.

Employee engagement is a key driver of business success. Consider enhancing your company’s engagement strategy by developing a lunch networking program. Remember, you don’t need a big committee to get this going- define measurements and metrics upfront and just do it!

What are you doing to enhance engagement?

What are you doing to enhance employee engagement? I look forward to your comments.

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Lisa Bonner

Lisa Bonner is an experienced change agent and Senior Vice President with Roberts Golden Consulting. She helps global Fortune 500 companies solve organizational issues and manage major changes to drive achievement of bold business objectives. Lisa is passionate about football, fitness, decorating and raising twin boys. Connect with Lisa.

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