One of the exciting things about being in the inaugural class of Code for America Fellows is watching the Code for America culture evolve: hawk screams and git commit messages reverberate through the office; visitors jump into cross-functional teams on Labs Fridays; everyone is eager to share their knowledge and skills. It’s the kind of transparent, participatory culture that Code for America is attempting to promote in government.
On the other hand, if you look closely, you can see the tensions that are typical of any social group: hierarchy (ruby over php), controversy (tabs vs. spaces), and cliquishness (mac vs. linux – mac vs. PC is so passé). These divisions show up most vividly at lunchtime, where social patterns emerge and can become habitual.
To counter this trend, and to encourage collaboration in the workplace, we built an internal tool called Lunch Roulette that selects random pairs of Fellows to join each other on impromptu lunch dates.
Here’s how it works: an organization signs up, enters a bunch of employees, and then selects the number of people to send out per date (usually 2), as well as the number of dates per day. Members receive invitation emails and can accept or decline. If they decline, new members are queued up until a match is made. Organizations can decide on which days of the week Lunch Roulette should be active; members can do the same.
So far, I’ve only been on one Lunch Roulette date myself, but it was with someone who I’d never spent time with outside of the office. We talked about the challenges on our respective Code for America projects, our plans for the future, and our shared interest in small-scale farming – topics that were unlikely to emerge during a normal day at work. As a result of this experience, I have a new ally in the office, whose skills I better understand and who I can turn to for advice and support.
Lunch Roulette is currently in beta. We plan to include LinkedIn profiles and Google calendar integration, as well as suggestions on nearby eateries.
If your organization would like to give the system a try, please feel free to sign up here. We’d love to hear your feedback (especially on the name: maybe something a little less…loaded?)