Friday 26 June 2009

Lunch and learn? Not for me thanks, I'm trying to give it up.

I’m going to have a little rant about the topic of "lunch and learn" as a knowledge management tool. Feel free to disagree!

I know this is quite a popular approach, and at first sight it makes a lot of sense. You can set up seminars where people talk about what they have been doing, and you can boost attendance by holding the seminars during lunchtime when people have "free time" and aren't doing work. Maybe you can offer free coffee and cookies as an inducement for them to turn up.

But what message are you giving? You are giving the message that learning and knowledge sharing is not something that should be a priority during working hours, and should be fitted into spare lunchtimes. You are giving the message that learning is not real work, to be done during work time. You are giving the message that learning is something you can do while eating, and that you don't need to give it full attention. You are making the tacit assumption that people will not turn up to learn something unless you bribe them with cookies.

If learning is important, don’t relegate it to lunchtime. How many other business activities would you hold at lunchtime, so people could eat as they participated? Would you have "lunch and budgeting?" "lunch and project planning?" lunch and personal appraisal?" "lunch and recruitment interviewing?" No you wouldn't, so why relegate learning to lunchtime?

Part of the problem, I think, is that "lunch and learn" sessions tend to be general seminars which people think might be of interest, rather than focused sessions addressing key business issues. They tend to be "show and tell" or "death by PowerPoint", rather than interactive working sessions. They tend to be knowledge push rather than knowledge pull. The amount of useful knowledge transferred at the sessions is generally minimal. OK, you can raise awareness of an issue, but you not going to change the way the people work. So the amount of real benefit you create is minimal, but the devaluation of the importance of learning is immense. The message you give, though subliminal, is damaging. However the topics are not always general awareness topics. I have been in an organisation where they held knowledge debriefs of experts coming in from intensive field visits to overseas countries, as "lunch and learn" sessions, to transfer key operational know-how. Here the topic was hugely valuable, and somehow they couldn't treat this as real work?

If learning is important to your organisation, treat it as if it as important. Focus it on the solution of business problems, hold it during business hours as a business practice, and don't feel you have to bribe people with cookies in order to get them to turn up.

Knowledge exchange, yes. Peer Assist, definitely. Lunch and learn? No thank you!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really agree with the content of your message. In addition, I have these reasons to dislike lunch & learns:

If it's important, you should be taking notes. Very awkward to do while you're eating.

For another hour of the day, people are sitting. This time could be spent going outside getting fresh air and exercise.

The lunch is generally brought in; unlikely to be healthy food and loads of garbage is generated.

If I am the speaker, I want people's full attention and I don't want to be looking at a bunch of people eating while I am not.

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