As SynOptics Communications, a supplier of computer-networking systems, grew from 11 to 425 employees over four years, communications problems among the company's five functional groups grew just as fast. So CEO Andrew Ludwick began the "staff-to-staff brown-bag lunch."
The idea for the lunch meetings came after a manufacturing line supervisor complained that a new circuit board took much too long to assemble. Ludwick sat the supervisor and an engineer down at the same table to figure out how they could work together to make the product easier to assemble. By replacing a part on the board with a smaller, cheaper part, they determined, the board could be assembled much more quickly.
Now, each quarter the company buys lunch for two related divisions. All the key people from both divisions sit down together at five tables in the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. Each table is assigned a problem that it must solve over lunch and then present the results to the rest of the group.
"On a superficial level, we are simply solving problems," says Ludwick. "But we are also creating chemistry among all our employees."