Starting a company book club can be an imaginative way to bring people from different departments together, increase employee engagement and ignite a productive exchange of ideas. You may choose to keep your book club narrowly focused on business-related topics, or make it a more general group open to all kinds of books. Either way, a few tips can help you increase the chances that your book club will be a lasting success.
Tip #1 – Encouraging Open Minds and Exploration
Ideally, your employee book club will spark both connection and creativity by stimulating deep discussions in an enjoyable way. Encouraging people to think and speak freely can be one way that good leaders become multipliers of the best qualities of their staff. However, that kind of thoughtful and lively discussion will rarely just happen by accident. Sparking creativity and helping people see new perspectives should be a recurring theme from the moment you announce the formation of your company book club. Announcements and invitations to join should always mention the central themes of learning new things and hearing fresh perspectives from colleagues. By making openness and curiosity the “brand” of your book club, you’ll be planting the seed of personal and professional growth right from the start.
Tip #2 – No Bosses in the Book Club
Even if you’re a manager who is organizing a book club that includes your direct reports, you should make sure that in this case “organizing” the group does not equal “controlling” it. A book club is usually best conceived as a gathering of equals, with everybody’s input similarly welcome and respected. The quickest way to kill your club members’ enthusiasm is by letting the group turn into nothing more than a reflection of your personal tastes and preferences. Book clubs dominated by one person’s point of view are almost always destined to fail. Let a different person lead the group each week, and leave your ego – and your boss persona – at the door.
Tip #3 – Agree How to Disagree
Tastes and opinions about books differ, just as they do about any other topic. It’s a given that members of your book club will not always agree about the books you read. Sometimes your book club will read a book that is very meaningful or moving to some members, while being boring or even offensive to others. That could lead to some strong feelings and opinions being expressed during your book club meetings; that can be a good thing, if those opinions are expressed constructively. While passionate debate may be just what you’re hoping for, arguments are another matter. To avoid spirited discussions turning hostile, ground rules for respectful communication should be agreed on from the very first meeting. Continually remind everyone, including yourself, that being exposed to new ideas and different views is a central aim of the club.
Tip #4 – This is Not a Test
Your employee book club should be a morale-building and inspiring pursuit, rather than one more thing added to everyone’s To Do lists. Keeping the atmosphere of meetings as positive as possible will help your team members feel that the book club is something they get to do, not something they have to do. If members are afraid that they’re going to be judged if they didn’t make it through the whole book or didn’t “get” one of the central themes, they’ll be more likely to drop out. This is another reason why keeping a respectful, non-judgmental atmosphere will increase your book club’s chance of success. Including some lighthearted games and activities at every meeting will also make your club feel more like recreation rather than an assignment. After all, reading is meant to be an enjoyable pastime! A successful book club should feel like a perk, not a chore.
Initiating a book club at your company can build team spirit while also helping you identify employees who are thoughtful, creative and open to new ideas. All it takes to get and keep your group going is curiosity, respect, planning and maybe some doughnuts!