It’s a typical workday. I’m having lunch in the park with Robbie. He works in marketing. I work in tech. We’re two of about 40 people working at Knewton at the time. Robbie and I regularly chat and sometimes share a meal. Together, we’ve launched a few internal initiatives — some that worked well, others that didn’t.
Checking in with Robbie, someone not in tech, about how the tech team is doing has become a useful barometer for me. We comfortably brainstorm, letting go of the day-to-day urgency of our work.
Fast forward a year: Knewton has more than doubled in size, and my responsibilities have changed. I “don’t have the time” anymore to have lunch with Robbie. There are so many new people at the company that it’s hard to keep track of them — let alone have lunch with them.
Without these casual, face-to-face conversations, I’ve lost an important stream of information. I’m missing those “a-ha” moments that come from these casual, face-to-face conversations — when a coworker would see a problem a different way, and help me realize a workable solution.
So a few coworkers and I get to talking. Maybe we could create a “random lunch” system to encourage people from different teams to connect. We toss around a few different ways to structure it, ranging from simple (randomly pick a group of employees) to complex (analyze office emails and chats to match up people who don’t communicate often, or at all).
Ultimately we decide to try to match up people who a) aren’t on the same team and b) haven’t had lunch together for at least two weeks. This is easy to code up — we spend an evening on it.
We’ve refined the system over the course of a few Hack Days, and have been using it ever since, for almost three years now. Every Wednesday, people in the company can opt-in to participate and get randomly matched up in a group of three or four. Now Robbie and I just have to hope that the random lunch dice roll in our favor.
We can’t be the only company that has had this problem. Here’s the code if you’d like to try it out for yourself. It only requires a Google Sheet to set up. Instructions are included in the Github Repo.