Starting a book club at work

“A word after a word after a word is power.”

– Margaret Atwood.

Book clubs are a great place to broaden your literary horizons, socialise, share a cuppa and your love of reading with other humans. I love reading and have a pile of great fiction stacked up beside my bed ready to go.

I have very fond memories of a book club I belonged to in Queenstown – an inspiring group of women from various arts backgrounds, all sharing a love of great books, food and local wines. We didn’t follow the usual book club recipe with everyone reading the same book and then discussing it, instead we all brought along the books we were reading or had read that month and would talk a little about them. If we’d finished reading a book, we’d review it and offer it for loan to another member in the group. I loved this style of book club – it meant a broader range of books were discussed, it was very inclusive and lots of fun. Everyone’s tastes in our book club were very different and most had a story about the story. I discovered and read many more books that I would have normally read because of this great book club.

Ackama’s Director Breccan is a voracious reader of business books, he always has a large and growing stack on his desk and book recommendations are his answer to most questions. We have a strong learning culture at Ackama and encourage all staff to read business books, especially during their investment time. Continuous improvement is one of our core values and business books are a key tool in professional development.

In the past I have struggled to regularly read business books and I wondered if others were finding it a challenge too. Which is why I started up Ackama’s first book club.

Using my Queenstown book club experience I suggested we follow a similar recipe – meet, read our own chosen books and then review and recommend. Treats were a key component of my plan – not necessarily bribery, but it did help boost enthusiasm and initial buy in!

Book club 1

Now we have a core group of enthusiastic, cross functional team book club members, who get together every Friday to support each other to read their business books and share their viewpoints. At the beginning of each book club, we discuss what we are reading or review our book if we have finished it. We take turns arranging delicious treats.

A highlight has been listening to the enthusiastic book reviews but the most important part has been the quiet support and encouragement to read at a regular time each week. I was quietly pleased when I finished my first book in record time Leader as Facilitator by Lynne Cazaly and I have a renewed enthusiasm for getting through my business book list, thanks to book club.

Book club 2

If you want to start you own work book club, you can do what we have done at Ackama or you can all try reading the same book and discussing it – there is no correct way of doing this – the important part is the coming together, reading and learning. The benefit of all reading the same book is to incorporate those thoughts and ideas into your thinking as a company and to have a common language and common context. It makes the application and adoption of these ideas and concepts into the workplace easier and and more seamless.

How to start your own book club (this is what we did at Ackama):

  1. Check with your Manager or HR department if they will support a book club, it’s preferable that the company purchases the books or supplies you with a book budget. Clarify the types of books you’ll be reading.
  2. Invite staff to a regular book club time slot in a comfortable, quiet part of the office. (We meet every Friday 11-12.) Attendance is flexible, this ensures it is accessible and informal, and encourages teammates to read their books even if they can’t attend.
  3. Each person chooses and brings along their book to read (or you can all choose to read the same book).
  4. At the beginning of each book club, everyone describes what they are reading and why.
  5. If you have finished your book, give a book review at the beginning of book club (5-10 mins).
  6. There’s always refreshments (take turns hosting and providing).
  7. Decide if you want to place a limit on numbers (we decided on 10).
  8. Choose books that relate to your role, a challenge you are facing, books that offer solutions and new ideas.
  9. Have a Slack channel (or similar) for sharing information, ideas, articles, reviews, other books and book club reminders.
  10. A shared document to keep track of books/review/recommendations.

Why a book club will benefit your organisation and staff:

  1. An inexpensive way for staff to develop their skills both personally and professionally.
  2. Builds company culture.
  3. Offers opportunities for continuous learning and improvement.
  4. Helps staff stay up to date on industry best practices and new technology.
  5. Gain a fresh perspective and new ideas.
  6. Learn new concepts and new ways of doing activities that you can apply in the workplace.
  7. Builds camaraderie, comfort, and teamwork in the group of staff who attend.
  8. Gives staff the opportunity to practice leadership roles such as leading a group discussion or presenting their book review.

Ackama Book club current reading list:

Leader as Facilitator by Lynne Cazaly
Ish by Lynne Cazaly
Find Your Why by Simon Sinek
Mismatch by Kat Holmes
Working Out Loud: For a Better Career and Life by John Stepper
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
The Imposters Handbook by Rob Conery
Practical Object Oriented Design in Ruby (POODR) by Sandi Metz
Envisioning Information by Edward R Tufte

Books Ackama recommends:

How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard P. Rumelt
Bargaining for Advantage by G. Richard Shell
The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Little Bets by Peter Sims
Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler and Ron McMillan
Financial Intelligence by Karen Berman and Joe Knight with John Case

A book club can be an effective way to stay up to date with latest technologies and best practices, learn with your colleagues and recommend books to each other.