We started a company book club. Here’s what happened.

Jill Granberry

Book clubs abound and chances are that you or someone you know have been part of one. I have heard friends who describe them more accurately as wine clubs! But have you considered a book club at work? The benefits are bountiful. We discovered that a book club can be an affordable, informal way to foster personal and professional development, enhance communication and increase employee engagement. According to John Coleman in the Harvard Business Review, book clubs “can help you become a better reader, commit to reading, grow relationships, learn from diverse perspectives, and become a better conversationalist. They can be good for the mind, good for leadership, and good for business.”

Our company President initiated our weekly book club and suggested our first book, You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar by Dave Sandler. While most of us do not have a sales title, this book reminded us that we are all salespeople in some way and we are all responsible for exceptional client service. HireBetter’s culture committee, The Vibe Hive, was tasked with choosing the next book selections. We read and discussed Great at Work by Morten Hansen, and then decided to change things up for the summer series and selected 10 TED Talks to watch and discuss. The variety of topics and video aspect was well-received and brought new energy to our conversations. Our current book is The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, and our next selections will include listening to a podcast series and reading an autobiography.

Our book club is not a test of knowledge but rather is a time to connect, build trust, and talk about something other than work. We meet for 30 minutes once a week to discuss a chapter. Attendance is expected and the weekly meeting works well because it holds us accountable to keep up with the reading. Plus, as a national company with remote employees, book club has been an effective way to ensure we see each other on a weekly basis via video conferencing. We’ve learned that reading about other successful company cultures broadens our perspective, while hearing about the experiences of co-workers helps us better understand the people we interact with every day. Still, there is a vulnerability in sharing personal stories, so set ground rules up front for confidentiality and respect. We haven’t had any issues in this area, but setting the tone for a safe space is key to building a tight-knit team and encouraging participation.

HireBetter Managing Director Abbie Martin notes, “We came together to create weekly team meeting with the intention of connecting and learning. We got much more than we bargained for. What began as reading a book about sales led to the team wanting to continue our time together and be inclusive in our book selections. We even came up with some new ideas we could implement into our company through our regular book club meeting. We ultimately created a space where we feel safe to connect on things other than work. Book club has made us a much stronger team, helped create connections, and made our company a more enjoyable place overall.”

Tips for a Successful Company Book Club

  • Timing is important. Work is consistently busy, but if you are in the middle of a new product or service launch, it’s probably not the best time to start your book club.
  • Ask for book recommendations from a variety of people, or ask your culture committee to take the lead.
  • Purchase a book for each person and distribute a few weeks before the first conversation. Have extra copies on hand as part of your onboarding so new hires can join in.
  • Make the book club a priority. Schedule your meeting in the same room with a consistent day and time and protect the time on your calendar.
  • Consider pre-assigning the chapters to employees so that people at every level can lead a discussion.
  • Have the discussion leader send out a few ideas or questions in advance to foster a productive discussion. Or, you may create consistent discussion questions to use every time your group meets.
  • Allow every person to have a voice and add to the conversation.
  • Leave technology at your desk with no phones or open laptops in the room. Keep the book club as a sacred time to connect, listen, talk and learn.
  • Encourage laughter and be creative. Daniel Coyle lists “embrace fun” as one of the secrets of highly effective groups. The discussion leader for that chapter contacted each person and asked us to embrace fun and wear a funny hat to book club.
  • Implement the insights gained from the readings. Processing new ideas as a company brings opportunity to implement change and work with a new vocabulary.

Looking back some months after starting our book club, it’s apparent that making time for team building, open discussion, and learning in the workplace should be a priority. Whether you implement a book club or some other method, facilitating the opportunity for co-workers to grow in both their profession and in their work relationships is sure to pay dividends.

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