BY HAYLEY RABE, ANALYST
Take a second to picture your dream professional happy hour.
For me, traffic was reasonable, and I have a glass of something dry and red in my hand. Amongst the crowd is Barack Obama, Warren Buffett, Ariana Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. I am chatting with Oprah and, after exchanging photos of our Cocker Spaniels, I ask her what she is reading. Coincidentally, I had also just finished the title she named and have intelligent points to bring up. Mark Cuban wanders over at this point and I promise to lend him my copy.
While obviously aspirational, this scenario is not entirely unrealistic. One thing all the guests in attendance have in common is they have been vocal about the value they find in the habit of reading. They know that reading makes us better and brings us together.
Beloved books are often so because they have a way of forming feelings and ideas into words we may be unable to, leaving the reader feeling understood and less alone. Discussion around this in the workplace allows us to form bonds with our teammates and seek to improve together. Sendero has hosted a book club quarterly for over five years running and can confirm the lasting effects of camaraderie and inspiration fostered around a good read and good conversation.
Reading Improves verbal intelligence AND emotional intelligence
Studies show that reading improves our vocabulary as children and slows the trajectory of brain decline as adults. We know these things, but we often miss the business value of reading.
Through literature we learn new ideas, new words, and how to tell a story, which is often essential in a business setting (whether we are pitching a creative idea or coaching a team member) and creates an environment ripe for innovation.
Beyond that, even reading literary fiction (what we often dismiss as “beach reads”) is known to improve “Theory of Mind“, a term that researchers use to represent our ability to understand that other people have entirely unique but equally valuable experiences. Readers can more accurately describe emotion in others and are quicker at interpreting social cues in their environment – both invaluable in complex workplace situations.
For me, reading as an adult has been the best method that I have found to empathetically digest important social issues that impact those I work with and respect.
Reading Nurtures growth and company culture
When I joined Sendero, the Book Club was one of my first exposures to employees outside of my immediate project team or start group. At the surface level, it was a great way to learn names and have a friendly face to talk to at the next happy hour. On a deeper level it showed me honest conversations were welcomed and that my continued learning was a priority to invest in.
Since then, both Sendero and myself as a Consultant have evolved and the book club has been an underlying support of both.
Sendero’s book club has allowed me to get to know my coworkers in a more profound way. Discussing Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B gave me insight into times that more senior Senderoans had made mistakes or struggled at work and how they overcame those hurdles. Through vulnerable conversation about Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, I learned about times that well-meaning but ignorant comments have harmed my coworkers and how I can be an advocate in those situations. Lastly, after admitting my tendencies to flake out on big ideas while discussing The Slight Edge, I had peers holding me accountable on my follow-through.
Growing together is also a lot more fun (and effective) than growing alone. We have used the book club to acclimate new hires to company culture during onboarding, as well as prepare employees for their next roles as they naturally progress. Sendero’s new hires are encouraged to read Getting Naked, which results in a discussion across levels about what we cherish about our culture and how we can all work to maintain it, even while growing as a company.
Quick tips to get started
Sendero’s book club has grown with our company and with our employees through the years. However – whether you start at the company-level or just with your team, we have some tried and true tips to get you started.
- Act natural – To make the setting feel inviting to conversation (like a book club outside of work) ask an employee to “host” the book club. They can pick a book they resonate with and can put as little or as much effort into it as they desire. Our employees have either come with thoughtful questions to discuss or have prepared job-aids and presentations. Both are impactful in their own ways. Also like any good book club – provide food!
- Make it accessible – Consider reimbursing employees or purchasing copies for your “library” in the office. If they don’t have the time to read the book, encourage their participation anyway by including links to TED Talks or Podcasts about the book in the meeting invite. Try to avoid prep work (outside of the actual reading) unless it is something that will facilitate conversation like taking a personality quiz.
- Show that your leaders are readers – Encourage leadership members to attend. It sets the tone that the company is growing together. While they can host occasionally, they should also just attend to support novice team members and share experiences in discussion.
- Add variety – Yes, leadership books can be great to cover as a company, but they get a little dull in repetition. Consider other genres you can branch to while still maintaining professionalism (we suggest something on personal growth or a memoir).
Our Book Recommendations
We have used the book club to acclimate new hires to company culture during onboarding, as well as prepare employees for their next roles as they naturally progress.