Interview with Judith Quint, HR Development at the German Insurance Group Barmenia Versicherungen, on the Use of the Mystery Lunch Solution in Her Organisation

In Employee networking by Stefan Melbinger

“A tool for seeing the bigger picture and strengthening corporate culture.”

Barmenia Versicherungen is one of Germany’s largest independent insurance funds. As one of the Wuppertal region’s biggest employers, it employs more than 1,500 employees at its Wuppertal location and more than 3,400 employees across the country as a whole. Employees’ ability to successfully reconcile work and family life is a key concern for management, with social engagement and a sense of responsibility for the surrounding region also lying close to the organisation’s heart. When it comes to human resources development, topics such as knowledge management and internal networks represent important areas of focus. Here, Judith Quint, a member of Barmenia’s HR development team, talks about the organisation’s use of Mystery Lunch as a tool for the networking of management and staff.

Judith Quint

Ms. Quint, why did you choose to introduce Mystery Lunch at Barmenia eleven months ago?

Judith Quint: “Barmenia already had a number of long-term HR development concepts in place, so we weren’t necessarily looking for new tools. My first contact with Mystery Lunch happened rather by chance. But when we looked at the platform in more detail, we realised that this was something different: the relaxed, fun, yet strategic approach of matching colleagues for lunch on a random basis appealed to us immediately.”

How was the idea received by management?

Judith Quint: “Our management team is always keen to introduce new ideas to the company and to strengthen collaboration across hierarchical and departmental boundaries. Since our company culture places a high value on trust and individual responsibility, this is a natural part of that, and we’re always looking to try out interesting formats. Against this background, the opportunity to create new connections and network colleagues in new and unusual ways was definitely met with receptive ears. At least one of the management team is signed up to Mystery Lunch themselves.”

How did you make potential participants of Mystery Lunch?

Judith Quint: “To begin with, we wanted all of our employees to understand what Mystery Lunch was and how it worked. We used media such as the intranet and the staff magazine to get people interested, and we set up information stands in the cafeteria and the staff restaurant to appeal to people “in situ” as to why they should get involved.”

How did it go? What kind of feedback have you received?

 Judith Quint: “Over 500 meet-ups have taken place so far, with overwhelmingly positive feedback. First off, the vast majority of participants found it really enjoyable to get to know somebody new on a random basis. It provided space for plenty of interesting conversations and a dynamic exchange of ideas and opinions. We’ve also found that employees have been able to gain new and varied insights into the company’s work – including long-standing staff and management. It’s led to employees having a better understanding of, among other things, how processes are organised in other areas of the company and why this is the case. It facilitates better understanding between colleagues, which in turn has immensely beneficial effects in day-to-day company life. In an insurance company, in particular, many processes are complex and multi-layered.”

Do new points of contact not also come about through cross-departmental projects or training?

Judith Quint: “Yes, of course – we’d already been investing in cross-departmental cooperation initiatives for some time, though this occurred primarily through conventional means such as jointly executed projects or seminars. We view Mystery Lunch as a tool for seeing the bigger picture. It’s given us an opportunity to strengthen cooperation on a completely informal basis – and a voluntary basis, too. There’s a subtle but important difference between an employee being required to participate in something and them deciding for themselves whether they’d like to use a particular form of networking or not.”

How do you evaluate the use of Mystery Lunch within the organisation?

Judith Quint: “We receive a report from Mystery Lunch every month, which allows us to see how many employees are signed up to Mystery Lunch, how many meet-ups have taken place and how participants are distributed between different departments. Our goal is to promote networking in a relaxed, informal way. The happiness of our employees is our foremost concern, which is why so far, we’ve deliberately chosen not to carry out a systematic qualitative evaluation, but rather to record what’s fed back to us on an informal basis. As mentioned earlier, that feedback has been very positive. In the future, we might perhaps consider systematising feedback in the form of questionnaires – but for now and looking ahead, we want to allow the scheme as much freedom as possible rather than focusing on number-based goals.”

Data privacy and confidentiality considerations play a very important role in this context. How do you approach these issues at Barmenia?

Judith Quint: “Of course, both these issues are assigned an extremely high degree of importance. Our employees are guaranteed data privacy purely on the basis of the fact no participant information is forwarded to anyone outside Mystery Lunch – in fact, not even to us. We’ve worked with Mystery Lunch to define standards that guarantee data security and data privacy in full.”

What do you want to achieve in the future with Mystery Lunch?

Judith Quint: “We want to allow the principle of serendipity and chance to continue helping new ideas to get off the ground. As such, our most important goal is for more employees to take part. We want them to recognise how enjoyable it could be to get to know new colleagues over lunch and participate in interesting conversations. If this gives rise to new ideas with the potential to help Barmenia become better overall, this is even better. We also see it as an opportunity for all employees to become familiar with new tasks and responsibilities within the organisation, and thus to be better placed to identify professional development opportunities for themselves.”