Repost Wednesday: Lunchtime Roulette

Last Thursday I hosted my first faculty lunch of the semester. The idea is to bring together small groups of people from different departments who might not normally interact to get to know each other better, discuss issues of common interest or concern, and begin to build a more cohesive sense of identity and purpose. Eighteen of the twenty people chosen for the first event accepted my invitation.

Among the topics we discussed were efforts to better coordinate curriculum, Ph.D. student recruitment, the poor state of some classrooms,and the elimination of economics from the general education requirements. In each of these lively discussions there was a desire to spread awareness, bring more people to the table, and generate momentum around ideas. The hour flew by and I was very impressed by everyone’s willingness to engage in the conversation.

As the discussion unfolded, I mentioned an article I had read a few days ago where a company had implemented what they called lunchtime roulette. The idea was to randomly assign people to go to lunch together at the company’s expense. The goal was to drive innovation through idea generation from people who don’t normally get to talk to each other. I commented that I couldn’t afford to implement this policy for pairs of faculty and send them off to a restaurant, but that I was willing to buy lunch for small groups of people from different departments to get together over pizza or sandwiches to discuss a programmatic or college policy issue of common interest or concern. Since no one told me I was nuts, here’s the deal:

1. If you want to hold such a lunch you need to get three other people to sign on to a meeting. The four of you must come from at least three departments so that we know that the issue cuts across a number of disciplines. This group cannot be a standing committee of the college. I want it to be an organic group of at least four. The issue must pertain to students, teaching, curriculum, fund-raising needs, cross disciplinary research, or infrastructure.
2. Email your names and a short description of what is going to be discussed at least one week prior to the proposed meeting. The email should go to Anne Marie.
3. We will review the request and if it meets the above requirements, we will send out an email to all faculty announcing the topic, time and place of the gathering so that anyone who wants to join the discussion can come. People will need to RSVP by the day before the meeting if they want to eat. We will buy up to ten lunches. (If interest exceeds ten, we will consider a different forum for the topic.)
4. After the meeting one of the original four requesters must provide us with a summary of the discussion and any proposed action steps so that we can post it on a portion of our website for anyone to read.
5. If you don’t give us something appropriate to post within a week of the meeting, you don’t get to ask us to fund another gathering. If you do post it, you can ask to have a follow-up lunch if you believe it’s appropriate.

It will be that simple.

These lunches will go on throughout calendar year 2013 as long as people find them useful and keep asking us to schedule them. After that we will evaluate the program and decide whether we want to extend it for 2014. (Foard, the budget master, is having a heart attack as he reads this. I didn’t tell him in advance of this post.) So get talking.

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