Implement a Book Club at Work

They Are (or Should Be) a Key Tool in Employee Development

Happy diverse group of friends discussing a book in library.
EmirMemedovski / Getty Images

Looking for an easy way to share information and develop employees at work? Form an employee book club (see success stories) in which a group of employees voluntarily read the same book. Combine the book reading with a regularly scheduled discussion meeting to double the impact of the book.

Ask one employee to lead the discussion about the week's assigned chapter or two. Ask a second employee to lead the discussion about the relevance of the book's teachings to your organization. You'll magnify learning with your employee book club.

Your employees will need approximately 15 hours to read and participate per book selected.

How to Implement a Work Book Club

  1. Determine if employees are interested in a book club. Send out an email to gauge employees' interest in reading a book on their own time and then meeting at lunch once a week to discuss the book.
  2. Sometimes organization leaders and other employees may have a book in mind to suggest. (Perhaps an employee recently read a book they'd recommend.) Other times, a small team is recruited to pick a book or to provide several choices. This step can also depend on who the volunteer readers are. If the majority represents the marketing function, you may want to decide upon a recent marketing book. If readers are from across the company, you will want a broader or more society-oriented book.
  3. Allow the voluntary participants to vote to select the book to read.
  4. It is recommended that the company purchase the copies of the book. It's a small price to pay for knowledge generation.
  5. Hold a quick organizational meeting to determine the number of chapters the group wants to read each week and to pass out the books. Select a volunteer to lead the book discussion at this meeting. Select a volunteer to lead the relevant discussion, too. Select a regular meeting time.
  6. Read, meet, discuss. A suggested way to lead the discussion is to ask one employee a week to lead a discussion about the portion of the book that participants read. A second employee then leads the discussion about how the reading applies to your organization.
  7. You may want to come up with consistent book club discussion questions to use every time your group meets to discuss the application of the book's contents within your organization. These book club discussion questions solicit the best thoughts of your participating employees.
  8. When the group completes the book, select the next book. Send an email to the company announcing the next book and soliciting members for the next round of the book club.
  9. Cross-functional book club members for company team building and the cross-functional viewpoint are preferred in many employee book clubs.

However, you can also reap benefits when department members, for example, read together on a book of interest to the members of the department. An example of this was a marketing department team that read "Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days" together. Another example was a product development team that read "Agile and Lean Program Management: Scaling Collaboration Across the Organization.

Tips for a Successful Work Book Club

Select books that have broad appeal for a book club that is open to all company employees. Several books that have been popular in recent years in workbook clubs include:

  • "First Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently" by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
  • "Good to Great" by Jim Collins
  • "Freakonomics" by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  • "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield
  • "The World Is Flat" by Thomas L. Friedman
  • "Hustle" by Neil Patel
  • "Tools of Titans" by Tim Ferris
  • "Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond" by Jay Sullivan
  • "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High" by Kerry Patterson

Do invite new members to the book club each time a new book is started. You don't want the group to turn into an exclusive team that other employees will feel uncomfortable joining. The current employee book club members can also recruit new readers by talking about the positive experience of participating.

Sharing books is a mistake. You'll want to purchase one book per person so that your employees feel unpressured as members of the book club. (They have enough pressure in other aspects of their work. Right?)

Why Book Clubs Will Benefit Your Organization

Book clubs at work are a serious employee development opportunity. A book club provides benefits for the employee—and for the employer when it is implemented with care.

  • In a book club, your employees learn new concepts and new ways of doing activities that they can apply in their workplace. Developing a consistent set of book club discussion questions enables employees to apply the concepts on the job.
  • It builds camaraderie, comfort, and teamwork in the group of employees who attend. It is a team-building activity that works as well as these more formal activities.
  • When employees learn the same concepts, by reading the same book, they share the same language and have heard the same ideas. It makes the application and adoption of the ideas and concepts more easily and seamlessly into the workplace.
  • The book club gives employees the opportunity to step up and practice leadership roles such as leading a group discussion or presenting to provide an overview of a chapter.
  • You can help your organization become a learning organization in which people continuously grow and develop.

The Bottom Line

You can foster the development of a learning organization by sponsoring employee book clubs.