What Is a Brown Bag Meeting?

A brown bag meeting is an informal meeting that occurs in the workplace generally around lunchtime. This type of meeting is referred to as a brown bag meeting or a brown bag seminar because participants typically bring their lunches, which are often packed in brown paper bags.

Meetings of these kind usually occur in office training or conference rooms. They don't necessarily have to be held during the lunch hour and can take place at any time during the workday or after hours.

Understanding Brown Bag Meetings

Brown bag meetings are informal training and learning sessions offered by employers to their staff. These meetings are also called lunch and learn sessions.

The brown bag meeting is an efficient and straightforward way for corporations to save money while training or informing staff. The underlying assumption is that employees will bring their lunch to the meeting. Formal meetings are usually catered or held offsite, with the company assuming all dining costs. Depending on the number of attendees, these costs can be significant. 

Other organizations, such as nonprofits and academic institutions, also offer brown bag meetings. These meetings are usually informative, range from one to four hours, and have a small number of participants.
[Important: Depending on the topic, employers may decide to bring in other employees or people from outside to act as speakers or meeting leaders.]

Types of Brown Bag Meetings

There are four primary types of brown bag meetings. These types include the seminar, small group, combination, and the social meeting.

A seminar meeting is the most common, and usually includes a guest speaker or expert who transfers their knowledge and experience about a specific topic to the gathering. This format will often include a short question and answer period at the end of the session.

In a small group meeting, each participant answers a single question or a set of pre-defined questions. Other attendees may comment, ask for more information or clarity, and discuss the responses. The process continues until all participants answer the topic questions. This format allows for the maximum transfer of knowledge and experience and reinforces group dynamics. Small group meetings are frequently referred to as workshops.

A combination meeting is a hybrid of a seminar and a small group meeting. The meeting starts with a speaker presenting a key topic for the meeting. The remaining time is spent operating in a small group format. Small group format is useful for problem-solving, brainstorming, and team-building. The attendees will frequently reconvene and each small group will present its findings to the group at large. 

The social meeting type allows participants the opportunity to get to know each other in a relaxed setting. Participants may learn each person’s role and career objectives. This format builds trust and promotes cohesiveness.

Key Takeaways

  • A brown bag meeting is an informal meeting that takes place in the workplace generally around lunchtime.
  • Brown bag meetings are typically informal training and learning sessions offered by employers.
  • Topics for brown bag meetings can be work-related or geared to help employees in the lives outside of work.

Brown Bag Meeting Topics

Most brown bag meetings take place to inform employees about important work-related issues including human resources training and policy changes. Other topics may include industry-specific news and trends.

These meetings can also be helpful in disseminating topics that aren't related specifically to work but can be useful for employees. These include healthy living, investing, retirement options, technology-related topics, and safety outside the workplace.

Simply put, there is no limit to what employers can cover during these informal meetings.

Benefits of Brown Bag Meetings

Brown bag meetings promote dialogue and information sharing among participants. Sharing among participants enhances training and ensures consistent dissemination of information.

They also promote teamwork, reinforce company values and missions, and increase employee morale. They can also help employees learn about and develop important skills they can use outside the workplace.

Brown Bag Meeting Structure

The sessions can be structured or unstructured, and are often used to transfer knowledge, solve problems, brainstorm, and build trust among attendees.

Meetings may include presentations. They may also be led by speakers who provide expert advice, discuss policy changes, or talk about innovative products and services. Brown bag meetings are useful for cross-training, project management initiatives, and cross-functional team meetings.