A case study about the implementation of short and informal lunchtime talks.

Who wrote this case study?

Emily Hopkins [email protected] from Health Education England (2016).

Who asked?

This is an ongoing programme, run by Knowledge Management as one of our areas of work. One of our objectives is to provide and support “regular opportunities to connect and share knowledge”.

Although a comparatively small organisation, the various different functions and work areas, and the fact staff are split across 2 sites mean it can be difficult to keep up with what colleagues are doing, and inevitably “silo working” can happen or people can feel out of touch with colleagues.

We wanted to give an opportunity for people to share what they’re doing, keep up with what colleagues are doing, find out about new initiatives as well as get to meet and network with colleagues they wouldn’t usually work with, and also celebrate success by sharing good news stories outside the immediate team.

What did you do?

The “Lunch and Learn” programme consists of a lunchtime talk on a variety of topics, approximately once a month. The talks are short and informal, and people can bring their lunch along to emphasise the informal nature.

Naturally there has been a session on Knowledge Management and the work we do; other topics have ranged from Workforce Planning, to Widening Participation, to Veterans Mental Health, to the work of the Psychological Professions network.

The format of the session varies to suit the topic and speaker, but usually consists of a short presentation (approx. 20 minutes) followed by time for questions and discussion, as well as potential networking for attendees. The sessions are designed not to be a training session, but a broader, softer approach to keeping in touch with colleagues or finding out about interesting topics.

We contact different speakers – either interesting topics we’ve heard about, or on recommendations, or people who have volunteered to speak – to arrange a date and time and ensure it is advertised. We try to ensure a good mixture of topics, and that topics are timely (for example, to coincide with launch dates, or soon after a project has completed). We also facilitate the sessions to try and enable discussion and questions afterwards, and encourage staff to make connections.

If possible and practical we run the popular sessions twice, in the Manchester and Liverpool offices to give all staff the opportunity to attend. We’re also exploring a way to make them available via videoconference, to reach as wide an audience as possible without losing the interactive element.

How did it help? 

The variety of sessions has introduced a number of topics to staff, including knowledge management , workforce planning, widening participation, veterans' mental health services, and updates from the Psychological Professions Network.

Feedback from attendees has been positive with people saying it helped them find out about what colleagues are doing, or that they have taken away information to share with their teams.

Staff now have the opportunity to hear about work going on elsewhere in the organisation, and learn about and appreciate the work of their colleagues.

It also gives staff the opportunity to take a break away from their desk and a “change of scenery” – perhaps going a small way towards challenging the culture of not taking breaks – admittedly as a half-way point between a full break away from work, and working through lunch as staff often do. The fact it is at lunchtime means staff don’t have to justify the time for a topic that may not be seen as of immediate relevance to their roles.

Admittedly we are a small organisation and with only 2 sites, staff aren’t dispersed as they would be in a trust (particularly community services) so we have the advantage of a convenient location for most people with the meeting room a short walk from their desk, and as office-based staff, not needing to arrange for time off from the rota to attend the session. Therefore the sessions are relatively straightforward for us to arrange.

Attendance can vary, and it isn’t always possible to predict a good day to arrange the sessions on to ensure a large number of staff available, and guarantee good attendance at the session. However we keep a track of feedback and check we aren’t clashing with any major events or big meetings to try and ensure good availability of potential attendees.

We are also looking to develop the sessions further to ensure a better range of topics, by approaching areas of the organisation not currently represented, and to look out for suitable topics.

November 2016