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Starting a Corporate Book Club

In 1997 The Consortium for Business Literacy was formed. The consortium's main objective is to promote a program called Business Literacy 2000™ whose goal is to make business reading groups a staple of corporate America. Let's not kid ourselves, these are publishers, they also want to sell books, but regardless, what a great idea and Aretê supports it 100%. Our wish for you is that you create a forum in your company for discussing the newest trends and ideas in the business world.

By exploring leading edge business practices with one another and implementing some of the ideas, your Team's thinking will become stimulated and inspired which will result in new, innovative opportunities for you, your company and a world where the need for independent thought has never been greater. The inspiration for the corporate book club idea and the material belong to a publishing company by the name of Berrett-Koehler. We list 3 new books each quarter that we have read and feel will aid your company in their continued Striving for Excellence; a necessary ingredient on the path towards achieving greatness. In addition, check out the Berrett-Koehler website for discussion guides for some other great books that might not be on our list.

10 Tips for Success

Get a champion from within the organization

An email message from the human resources department about a reading group meeting next Tuesday may not be greeted with a lot of enthusiasm on its own. This is one of those projects that will be better received if you get a passionate group of employees to champion and participate in the idea.

Set a regular meeting time

The group may want to meet over lunch, or take 20-30 minutes near the start of a workday to meet. Groups meeting in the afternoon or after work may find it difficult to generate the energy and participation needed for a successful meeting.

Make sure the books are available

Plan accordingly, and order the books about 4-6 weeks before you actually need them. Groups in general need about three weeks to read the book for meaningful discussion. Keep in mind that not everyone in the group needs to have read the book completely; often the discussion of the ideas in the book is robust enough on its own merits. In other words, don't cancel the reading group just because not everyone has had a chance or the time to read the book.

Appoint a facilitator

This person is the one group member who must read the book. It is also this person who needs to send reminder emails periodically to make sure the group is keeping up with the reading. A provocative statement in the emails is also a good idea. (I'll be interested in hearing what people think about the author's radical ideas in chapter 3," for instance.) The facilitator is the person who needs to keep the group moving, focused, and on time.

Give the group a moment to “get in the moment”

Take a minute before the discussion begins to pause, breathe, become aware of the group, and align your thoughts and energies to have a positive and uplifting meeting.

Ask everyone to participate

It may be a good idea, since there will be people from all levels of the organization, to go around the room/table and ask each person to relate something from the book that was particularly resonant for them. Make sure people understand this is a "judgment-free" environment and that all opinions and experiences have equal value.

Invite responses

There are sample discussion guides provided for some books on the Berrett-Koehler website. See if you can create something similar to guide your group's discussions for whatever book you decide to read. Discuss ways these ideas might be implemented in your workplace.

Ask for commitment

This is a good time to ask participants if they want to make a commitment to do something, something like, “THIS WEEK what could each one of us do that will make a positive difference in our company?”. Reinforce the fact that this is purely voluntary and that no judgments are being made.

Determine the next book and set the meeting time

It is often a good idea to set the meeting time up to three months in advance, on the same day of the week and time on the calendar. Many groups have also had success in choosing books not only for the next scheduled time, but for two sessions hence, just in case participants are planning to be out of the office, and to facilitate ordering.

Close on a positive note

Take a minute or two at the end of the discussion to acknowledge each other's contribution, and close with a handshake, hug, or inspiring thought for the week. Allow an opportunity for networking and community building. Express management's appreciation and desire for these forums to be the next "idea generators" in the organization.

How to Start a Reading Group

How do I find interested participants?

Ask colleagues within your department, or from other departments throughout the company to participate. If you are starting a reading group outside of an organization, ask family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues, members of professional associations to which you belong, colleagues in other organizations in your field, members of your church or synagogue, or members of other types of groups to participate.

What is the ideal number of participants?

The ideal size for a lively discussion is around six to ten people, assuming that it is a highly participative group. When deciding how many members to include in your group, however, you must take into account other factors, such as hectic schedules, unanticipated conflicts, or varying interest in topics that are chosen. Such factors will mean that, often, 3 or 4 people may be unable to attend a given meeting. Hence, the best strategy is to have enough people join the group so that at each meeting you are assured approximately 6 to 8 participants. Consider having a total membership of 10 to 12 to insure optimum attendance at every meeting. Within a company, you may choose to make a group larger, or have more than one group. If you do choose to have more than one group, you might consider focusing each on a topic or topics of mutual concern, such as teams, customer service, leadership, performance, etc.

How often should we meet?

For most groups, meeting more than once a month would be a struggle, and if you meet less, the group will never get any momentum going. If your group's purpose is professional or organization development, however, you might find that people are motivated to meet more often. It is a good idea to meet on some predictable day, such as the first Wednesday of every month.

Where should we meet?

If this is a group within one organization, you could choose a conference room within the company's offices. If it is a professional (and/or personal) development group not connected to any one organization or meeting outside the organization, you could rotate among members' homes or use library rooms, local community centers, conference rooms in offices, large bookstores, churches, synagogues, etc. Of course, on-line discussions are a possibility for all types of groups.

How much will it cost?

There are various costs associated with having a reading group, depending on how you choose to do things. Obviously, the books cost money (quantity discounts may be available from participating book stores and members of the consortium).

Also, if you are not connected to one organization and meet outside of work, and if you mail out reminders, there are the costs of printing and mailing. If you provide refreshments, there are more costs. An e-mail list or phone tree can be fairly simple to set up and easy to administer, thus saving on paper and mailing costs. And potluck dinners can be simple and cheap, plus may be a big help to busy members who find it difficult to find time to eat before the meeting.

If your organization chooses not to cover the costs, you could ask members for a one-time fee to cover six months of postage, snacks, etc. Or, ask each member to supply self-addressed-stamped envelopes.

What is the role of the facilitator?

The facilitator may be the same person each time, or members may choose a rotation system for the role, depending on the needs and wants of the group. The facilitator is responsible for:

  • Monitoring start and stop times
  • Encouraging dialogue from all participants
  • Reviewing the book carefully for specific discussion topics
  • Identifying the next facilitator if the group uses a rotation for the facilitator role

Questions to ask at the first meeting:

  • Where will we meet?
  • When will we meet?
  • How will we notify people of meeting locations, times, and reading selections?
  • What are the costs involved and how will we divide them up?
  • How will we choose books to read?
  • What are our basic ground rules?
  • Will we have a single facilitator or will the role rotate among members?
  • How will we purchase the books, individually or as a group?

What are the roles of the members?

Of course, the most obvious responsibility of members is to read the book. Other ground rules should be discussed among the group at the first meeting. The discussion might include issues of punctuality. At what time will meetings begin and end? What are the expectations of the group members regarding level and consistency of participation? What if members have to miss a session? What if they miss several in a row? What if someone only comes once in a while? How will we deal with the cost issues? If outside of work, should members be allowed to bring their children? Are guests allowed?

It is a good idea to discuss all of these issues at the first meeting of the group and to make decisions, as a group, about such things as location, food, cost-sharing, how books will be chosen, whether there will be one facilitator or if the role will rotate among members, as well as the issues mentioned above.

This Quarter's Recommended
Reading List

Stephen Covey
The 8th Habit

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Integrative Leadership
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QBQ: The Question Behind the Question
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