I went out for coffee with a friend last week. In the increasingly limited circumstance of sitting in the same room and enjoying a beverage together, she told me about a book club she started with a small group of people who lived in her building. Something struck me about her story, but it wasn’t until later that I realized what it was: the potential for community connection through literature—a rare and beautiful thing to cultivate in today’s world.
For so long, book clubs perched at the center of the personal sphere. It seemed everyone was, at one point or another, part of one. Maybe it was you, your mom, or a friend of a friend whose house you loved going to because they were known for throwing extravagantly themed get-togethers, and adding a book to the mix made it all the more worthwhile. Nothing was better than the experience of inviting friends, family, and neighbors over to offer their two cents in an enriching environment.
Then, 2020 happened. Our offices of many became offices of one, and seemingly overnight, social loneliness settled in like a thick fog. Loneliness didn’t just make forming strong relationships harder; it diminished employee engagement and increased turnover. Plenty has changed in the last few years, but while we slowly move toward a “post-pandemic workforce,” the struggle for connection remains.
During an HBE brainstorming session, we were discussing how to pierce this proverbial wall when someone shouted, “Eureka!” Company book clubs, she said. And I thought back to coffee with a friend and the beautiful connections made through literature.
What is a company book club?
A company book club is a place to discuss enriching topics and ideas. It’s a doorway to interacting with other people in your company in a meaningful way. Beyond water cooler talk, five-minute catch-ups after meetings, or a small exchange at the bottom of an email thread— they provide intentional, deep connection.
Why start a book club?
Leadership workshops are great, informative, and transformative. Still, those educational tools are generally unhelpful if no one else on the team knows what radical candor is or how to apply it day-to-day. The book club puts the means of understanding in the hands of everyone on the team and allows them to ask questions, offer their opinions, and be heard.
Randi Renee Doerr, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Vice President of Client Success at ExactHire, wrote about her experience starting a company book club. After just one meeting, she saw the advantages. These included inviting different departments to participate, “breaking down communication silos,” creating an excellent environment to “practice listening more effectively,” and bolstering inter-workplace connections.
Some companies provide a reading list and let employees pick what speaks to them. Zappos Library List lays the foundation for the company’s fifth core value, “Pursue Growth and Learning.” With books focused on team-building, innovation, leadership, and active communication, Zappos provides free copies “so [employees] can continually grow and learn.” Collective education allows the company to strengthen its values and workplace culture.
Numerous organizations share this sentiment. Whether it’s gaining a better understanding of the challenges other teams face and creating a universal language to help break down barriers and streamline processes, as is the case with BILT’s book club. Or they’re adding incentives to generate new ideas through reading, as Sam Davidson did with Batch in Nashville, TN. Companies are making strides to build a sense of community.
They found their Eureka! moment through books. You can, too.
How do you start your own book club?
If you’ve ruminated on starting a book club for some time now, you probably already have a book in mind. If so, we’d love to help get copies in your hands! You can bulk order any book on your list through HBE, and we will ship them out through Parnassus Books. Even with a pre-existing idea, we’re happy to help you get the literature for your event. For more information on bulk book orders, visit our website.
If this is the first you’re hearing about company book clubs, don’t fear. The first step is choosing a book. Usually, this title will inform your organization while encouraging thought-provoking conversations and real-world applications. With so many fantastic options, it can get a little overwhelming. We get it, and we’d love to help! Our team can find books on a wide variety of topics; from leadership and inspiration to space exploration to DEI, we have it all. Sign up for our Know Ahead List for the inside scoop on what’s hot this month— and what’s to come.