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How To Run An Awesome Workplace Book Club

Sneak preview: it's about the connection and conversation.

person reading book under lightbulb
person reading book under lightbulb

A book club is an activity where a collection of people read the same book over the same time period and throughout that they gather to discuss their insights / learnings.

It's an awesome way to connect team members across your company. It promotes cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives - which is at the heart of driving creativity and innovation in any organization.

I've launched and joined many book clubs in my career and I never met one I didn't like 😆.

Here are the key elements you'll want to consider to help make your book club a success...

📚 Starting with the obvious, choose a good book! You can check out Goodreads for community ratings of books. Similarly, check out the blogs and podcasts of your favorite thought leaders for their top lists. Come up with three contrasting choices and then poll your team to see which one they'd most like to read. This is a great way of increasing involvement and engagement before a single page has been read.

📅 Plan far enough in advance that people can work their schedule around the reading and meet-ups. Don't spring all of this on them last-minute.

Once you've chosen the book, chunk it down so that participants aren't expected to read more than 20–30 minutes a week.

connection and conversation
connection and conversation

🕟 Host your meetups during working hours but think about the meeting cadences in your team. For example, do folks start the day with a standup? Try to avoid peak meeting time and peak focus time. I've found that lunchtime can work well or a time towards the end of the day. Come up with some options and do a poll to check availability. Bear in mind that you might not be able to please everyone.

✨ Make the meetups optional and awesome enough that people feel motivated to join. To help with this, speak to a few people who can become advocates / founding members. Consider having something special for people who participate in the first round of meetups (anything from some neat snacks to a reading lamp or even a Kindle if you can find the budget).

‍💡 Group sizes of 6-12 work best for the meetups.

🙋‍♀️ Have a dedicated facilitator (someone who knows how to generate and lead constructive and meaningful conversation). The facilitator should be ready with considered, open, thought-provoking questions. Reach out if you'd like support.

📈 Encourage folks to choose a small action item as a result of each gathering. "What's one thing you might do differently as a result of our conversation today?"

💗 Connect with each other in between gatherings. Have a Slack channel (or equivalent) to help drive a sense of community and to foster discussion (and also to nudge people to do their reading).

❓ Check-in with participants on a regular basis. "What's working?" "What might we do differently next time?" Note down and share your learnings to inspire other teams and groups to kick-start their own book groups.

🙌🏽 Importantly, make all book groups open to everyone. At a previous company, when I worked on a People team, I used to go to a book group hosted by a Development Management team. It was awesome for building relationships across the organization and building my agile skillset (and bringing that back to HR!)

A note on inclusivity and agreements. All the activities in your organization should be surrounded by a layer of expected conduct. If you don't have that, I'd recommend you outline (or brainstorm as a group) some agreements to hold true in the book club. Particularly if you're going to choose a book that will raise personal topics or subjects that provoke strong emotions.

For example...

  1. Express opinions as your own.
  2. No tolerance for racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, or any other ism.
  3. Ask open questions.
  4. Listen to each other.
  5. Don't make assumptions.

As for tools, you'll want...

  • A google doc (or something similar) with the breakdown of chapters to read, meeting dates and perhaps a key question prompt for every meetup.
  • A video conferencing tool for gatherings.
  • A common way to do calendar invites (most companies already have this).

And in case you missed it earlier...

Book group isn't about the book - it's about connections and conversations the group builds.❤️