“Brown Bag Lunches” ?  ….. the idea started off around 10 years ago when I was a team leader and developer with gen-i, my manager provided time and a budget (for drinks and pizza) allowing team building, sharing code and ideas code as someone would often present a topic to the others in the team.

Around 6 years ago at WorkCover we begin a lunchtime meeting in our own time (no budget in the public service), and each attendee took turns to present a topic. Usually we’d present something we knew that was of interest to others, often the topic was new and something all were keen to learn about.

When there was insufficient time for anyone to prepare a talk we would typically have lunch while watching one of the many great (and free) conference videos that are online. Choosing between Sweden’s Øredev,  Norway’s NDC, MSDN Channel 9, or depending on the time of year, Microsoft PDC ,  MS TechEd or Microsoft Build

Some weeks we’d have a BA or PM come, in addition to the usual group of developers – we’d just pick a video (or a topic) that was of more general interest.

The benefit has been enormous. Everyone who was involved, researching and delivering a topic has benefited and grown in skills and confidence. Everyone coming along has been encouraged to try something new, or at least gone away with another idea in their tool belt.

Later: In a few of the last contracts I have managed to get further interest in the Brown Bag lunch; can’t name drop the places here, but the benefits have been incredible in each case. Teams growing together and bonding, as well as a greater spread of knowledge throughout the teams, greater performance on the job, increased confidence, ability and overall job satisfaction.

An interesting aside – brown bag lunches can be a bit divisive, but maybe that is too strong a word. Before too long there seem to be two lots of developers – those who come to the brown bag lunch and those who don’t. The ones who never come typically seem to be less motivated and more followers than leaders. Interestingly the ones who come seem to be the highest achievers, the sort of people I’d hire – if I had project running or a company needing people. This leads to the next challenge –  how do you get a 9-5 ‘it’s just a job’ developer out of that and into a different way of thinking?

BTW The term “brown bag” was borrowed from here:  http://oredev.org/2010/sessions/brown-bags-circles-top-code-and-lanterns-knowledge-management-in-scrum