Some say the way people change is through the books they read and the people they talk to. Company book clubs are the perfect intersection of reading and conversation, and they can even support employee diversity and inclusion.
How company book clubs support culture
Creating a thriving company culture doesn’t happen overnight, and a successful culture appeals to diverse approaches. To be inclusive to different types of employees, you need to provide more than one channel for employees to connect with each other to reflect various interests, needs, and lifestyles. For example:
- Happy hours and other alcohol-centric activities are great for gathering in a casual and unstructured environment, but they may exclude pregnant employees or those restricting their drinking
- Socializing over Slack empowers remote or introverted workers to join wider conversations, but it might alienate older employees or those less comfortable with technology
- Sports games and casino nights can establish bonds driven by friendly competition or banter, but some women feel uncomfortable in these male-dominated spaces
- Designing together or attending meetups as a department provides a way to get out of the office while developing your team, but adjacent teams may feel left out from these professional learning opportunities
- Any after-hours activity often appeals to younger employees or those whose roles don’t interact much with others, but they may feel prohibitive to parents or introverted employees
Starting a company book club provides an additional outlet for your team to exchange ideas and get to know each other in a new way. Creating bonds in multiple ways means deeper relationships with greater levels of trust. At Hero we treasure our differences because it leads to more creative design and strategy work.
How to make your company book club inclusive
Building a book club is easy enough, but making it inclusive starts from the beginning: choosing the right book and drumming up diverse participation.
Our book club at Hero focuses on books that focus on self-development or diversity and inclusion topics. These reads encourage introspection and reinforce embracing, understanding, and appreciating the strength in our differences. Our diversity & inclusion taskforce offers a selection of books and takes an informal vote on Slack where the whole company can weigh in. They can also recommend others to be tossed into the next selection process. This way all employees can contribute their voices to the collective choice.
Once a majority vote has been tallied, it’s time to drum up participants. We’re lucky that Hero provides the book for everyone who wants to participate in order to make book club as accessible as possible. To ensure everyone has enough time to commit to reading, we only host book club three times a year, and we encourage people to attend the discussion even if they haven’t finished the book.
The beauty of group reading is that it creates a natural social circle that can fill in any blanks in comprehension and motivate each other to read. Of course, you may still need to inspire the group, including by demonstrating top-down support. For instance, our CEO Dave Kilimnik read and joined the discussion at our kickoff meeting. This set the example.
Creating an inclusive book club discussion
Beyond the CEO, we gather a cross-section of departments: project management, analytics, client services, creative, development, and employee experience. It’s a great opportunity to escape any departmental silos and engage on a single topic. And we make it a point to bridge location gaps as well. We’ve had great success holding book club over the phone, leveling the experience for remote workers and those gathered in conference rooms across our locations. Folks are highly engaged this way, and we build commonality as every member introduces themselves and why they want to be part of the book club. After breaking the ice, our group facilitator gives each person two minutes to discuss their general thoughts on the book so that everyone is heard. This process is extremely enlightening about others’ opinions and experiences!
Next, we ask two discussion questions which we send out in advance so everyone can come prepared (this is especially important for introverts, who often prefer to collect their thoughts before speaking in a large group!).
Our most recent book club pick, The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson, discussed how setbacks, disruptions, and unlikely associations intersect to create amazing things. We asked the following two questions:
1) What was the most inspiring example of intersection:
The diverse team at Bletchely Park who worked to break the German Enigma cipher?
Marcus Samuelsson’s success at breaking down the traditional barriers in cooking?
The assumption reversal that lead to the development of the RSA cipher, the way we purchase items securely online?
2) From page 84-86: “Intersection hunting means that you search for connections in unlikely places and then see where those connections lead…Any source of random inspiration is fair game in the hunt for intersections. Take a break from what you are doing, grab a notepad, and start forcing connections between unrelated observations and the problem at hand. With time and luck, you will find a concept that triggers an unusual insight.” Do you agree that taking time and forcing connections will trigger useful and actionable ideas?
Each person shared where they will look for intersections in their lives to spark innovation. It was powerful. When you have engineers sitting next to designers and office managers talking about innovation via a book, it’s a bit of magic in the day. It makes everyone realize we are in this together, even just for a moment. We all face challenging times, but we can embrace them as an opportunity for a creative leap and sometimes the most innovative work of our lives.
Starting a book club at your company
At Hero we’re lucky to have executive buy-in for a budget to purchase books and the time to discuss. If that isn’t your company’s situation, you can still implement this during a lunch hour or after hours and yes, over the phone! Starting a book club in your organization forms connections and promotes self-realization that can make the difference between good and great or failure and success.
Book club is the perfect activity to add to your culture. It resonates across personality types and professional roles and fosters a diverse crowd. It sets a foundation for interactions that break through silos and equalize lifestyles. And, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for fun in the journey of self-development and inclusion.