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Why Start a Reading Group?

Start a Book Club

Put the Leading-Edge Business Practices You Read About to Use in Your Work and in Your Organization.

Why Start a Reading Group?

In today's turbulent and rapidly changing work world, we are confronted with a constant blur of new information and new ideas. Surviving in this competitive world means keeping up with new ideas about the organizations in which we work and about the way work gets done.

Do ever you wish there was a forum in your organization for discussing the newest trends and ideas in the business world? Do you wish you could explore the leading-edge business practices you read about with others in your company? Do you wish you could set aside a few hours every month to connect with like-minded coworkers or to get to know others in your business community?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the answer is simple: Start a business book reading group in your organization or business community. Joining with others in a reading group not only provides impetus for keeping up with the latest business books, but even more important, being part of a reading group can stimulate your own thinking, providing the opportunity for greater insight on how new ideas or theories might be put to practical use in your own work and in your organization.

How to Start a Reading Group

Finding Interested Participants

Within Your Organization: Ask colleagues within your department, or from other departments throughout the company to participate.

In Your Community: 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. You might also explore one of the Fast Company Book Club Meetup events.

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 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 the 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 You 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 You 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, online 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 bookstores 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 pot-luck 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 is not covering 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.

Members' Responsibilities

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 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.

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?

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Eight Tips For A Meaningful Reading Group Discussion

People find a group discussion of the ideas in business books a much more meaningful, enriching experience than reading them alone. Here's eight tips to make your book club smart, focused, meaningful, and successful.

  1. Get a champion from within the organization

    Don't expect an e-mail message from the human resources department about a reading group meeting next Tuesday to be greeted with a lot of enthusiasm on its own.

  2. 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 are, in general, doomed to failure.

  3. 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 nor the time to read the book.

  4. 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 e-mails periodically to make sure the group is keeping up with the reading. A provocative statement in the e-mails 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.

  5. Ask each participant 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.

  6. Invite responses

    Download and use the discussion guides provided for each book on the Web. Discuss ways these ideas might be implemented in your workplace.

  7. Ask for commitment

    This is a good time to ask participants if they want to make a commitment to do something THIS WEEK that will make a difference in the organization. Reinforce the fact that this is purely voluntary and that no judgments are being made.

  8. 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 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.