workplace book club books

How to start a workplace book club: tips and book recommendations

May 29, 2019
8 minute read
Last updated April 6, 2020

Implementing a workplace book club is a low-cost way to boost employee engagement while enabling employees to execute your business strategy. Getting a book club started is a light lift, so there’s no reason you can’t move on this right away.

Read on to learn:

  • The benefits of starting a book club at your company
  • How to get yours up and running A.S.A.P.
  • The trick to choosing books that will help you reach your business goals

We’ve also included a list of book recommendations that we’ve read as a group and enjoyed.

Benefits of starting a book club at your workplace

Here are five benefits of starting an employee book club:

They drive engagement.

Here at PI, members of the executive team regularly attend (and sometimes host) our monthly book club. This gives leaders at every level a chance to interact with our senior team.

If you can make this happen, it’s a great way to drive employee engagement. That’s because a top driver of engagement is the belief that the company puts as much energy and investment into its people as it puts into achieving its business goals. What illustrates this better than sitting elbow-to-elbow at the table?

Workplace book clubs also help build a strong organizational culture.

They promote innovation and creativity.

Sharing and exchanging ideas can foster out-of-the-box thinking and encourage new ways of approaching a problem. Whether you’re trying to innovate or improve on a quality issue, idea sharing can get you where you need to go.

They align talent and business strategy.

Aligning your people with your business strategy is the goal of talent optimization. If you choose the right books and nudge the discussion along, you can arm your employees with the knowledge and mindset they need to execute strategic objectives.

They build camaraderie.

A book club can create a sense of camaraderie among employees since everyone is on the same page—literally. When you gather a diverse group of people in one room, relationships between workers in different departments develop and grow organically.

They build soft skills.

Reading fiction has been shown to increase empathy, a much-needed workplace soft skill.

How to get your company book club up and running

Here are 10 actionable tips to ensure your book club runs smoothly.

1. Assign a point person.

The first step is to assign a point person who will ensure that the book club happens every month—and that it goes off without a hitch. At PI, our office ambassador plays this part.

2. Choose a location—and book it.

Identify a space that you can use every month. It should be large enough to accommodate the majority of your employees. At PI, we hold our book club in our kitchen and it lasts one hour. Your point person should book it on a recurring basis so it’s available on the same day and same time every month.

3. Communicate out.

Find a way to tell everyone in your company that you now have a workplace book club. You might use email or a tool like Workplace by Facebook. At PI, we have a Slack channel called #pi-book-club. We use this channel to suggest books, vote on books, assign hosts, etc. Also, consider hanging posters in strategic locations such as break rooms.

Tip: Inform new hires of your employee book club as part of your onboarding plan.

4. Choose your book.

At the start of each month, your point person should send an all-company communication (on your chosen channel) asking employees to suggest book titles. To start, have executives suggest books that are in line with your business goals. This will set the tone for everyone else. With options to choose from, employees vote via a simple Slack, Google, or SurveyMonkey poll.

5. Assign a host.

Often, the person who suggested the chosen book hosts the book club that month. However, anyone can step up to host. At PI, three members of our executive team hosted the first three book clubs (they were the same people who suggested the first three books). Again, this is modeling the behavior you wish to see and setting a good example.

6. Order books.

The host should encourage employees to RSVP yes or no to the calendar invite right after the book is chosen so you know how many books to order. Give employees two days to RSVP then have your point person order books based on the number of people who plan to attend. When the books arrive, place them in a central location and invite people to pick up their copy. At PI, we have remote employees who attend virtually; they purchase their own books and put in for reimbursement.

7. Plan technology.

Speaking of remote employees, make sure you plan your meeting technology ahead of time. At PI, our IT support specialist helps set up the room on the day of the book club; we use Zoom and Meeting Owl to stream the meeting and help our remote workers feel included.

8. Prepare discussion points.

The host is in charge of preparing discussion points. There are plenty to be found online with a simple search, but hosts are free to come up with their own ideas. The point person should check in with the host two days before the book club to ensure the discussion points are ready.

9. Buy snacks.

On the day of the book club, the point person purchases snacks and beverages. In addition to the typical “party fare,” make sure you have plenty of alcohol-free beverages as well as vegan and gluten-free options so everyone has something to eat and drink.

10. Hold the book club.

With the discussion points ready, the technology set up, and the snacks purchased, the book club should go off without a hitch thanks to proper planning. The host invites participants to share ideas, without forcing participation. If someone just wants to sit and listen, that’s fine. If one person routinely dominates the discussion, don’t be afraid to say, “You’ve given us lots of great insights, Joe. But let’s give others a chance to contribute now.” Good moderation is important to make everyone feel comfortable.

leadership books on a shelf in Drew's office

The trick to choosing books that will help you reach your business goals

There are many levers you can pull to get your talent aligned with your business strategy. Believe it or not, a workplace book club is another lever that can help you reach your business goals.

How’s that you ask? Read books that speak to your business strategy.

At PI, we’re focused on growth. One of our strategic objectives is to launch a new market category. Doing so requires an understanding of how to launch a category as well as an innovative mindset. To that end, we read Play Bigger (a guide to category creation) and Principles (a book about the unconventional principles that lead to success)—along with many other books.

If your strategy is wildly different than ours—i.e. you’re focused on customer satisfaction—the books you select will look different from ours. 

As workplace book clubs rely on employee suggestions, you might hear some suggested titles that don’t tie to your strategy at all. That’s okay; not every book needs to fit this criterion. But do maintain a “learning” atmosphere or else you risk venturing into “beach read” territory.

Book recommendations

Here’s a list of 18 books we’ve read since starting our workplace book club here at PI.

  1. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  2. Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters by Jon Acuff
  3. The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
  4. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  5. Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord
  6. Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets by Al Ramadan, Christopher Lochhead, Dave Peterson, and Kevin Maney
  7. The Challenger Sale by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon
  8. The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
  9. Creative Quest by Questlove
  10. Rising Strong by Brené Brown
  11. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
  12. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  13. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  14. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
  15. Make Your Bed by William McRaven
  16. Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton Christensen, David Duncan, Karen Dillon, and Taddy Hall
  17. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  18. QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life by John Miller

Want more recommendations for your company book club? If you’re focused on building leadership capacity in employees at every level, check out this list of leadership books, which our SVP of Marketing compiled earlier this year.

Book clubs are a low-cost tool that should be in every company’s arsenal to boost engagement and get employees aligned with strategic goals. They also lead to a more cohesive and collaborative workforce—that’s the icing on the cake.




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