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Leading Through Reading: A Guide to Leading Productive, Powerful Book Club Discussions


Thu Jul 27 2023

Leading Through Reading: A Guide to Leading Productive, Powerful Book Club Discussions

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Leading an effective book club discussion takes more than just selecting a book and circling up to talk about it. When you know how to lead a productive conversation, you can help your employees see a workplace book club as an opportunity to change and grow together rather than a box to check on the schedule.

Here’s how you do it!


Set the Stage

Creating the right atmosphere helps everyone show up to discussions with the right mindset.

  • Get everyone on the same page. Help your team members understand why you’re reading a book together. Is it to solve a specific problem on the team? Explore new ideas? Spark creativity?

  • Create a safe and inclusive environment. Encourage a nonjudgmental atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts. Emphasize the value of diverse perspectives allowing each team member to speak up.

  • Set discussion guidelines. At the beginning of your meeting, set clear expectations for participation, listening attentively, and respecting other people's opinions.

Prepare for a Productive Discussion

Like any productive work meeting, a little preparation goes a long way in facilitating a powerful discussion.

  • Create discussion prompts. Come up with thought-provoking questions in advance to keep the discussion on track. These prompts should encourage critical thinking, exploration of themes, and connections to personal experiences or the workplace.

  • Delegate parts of the discussion. Do you want to explore how the ideas in the book could help solve an ongoing challenge? Assign the challenge’s project leader to that part of the discussion. Ask your customer satisfaction specialist to brainstorm ways to apply insights to your customer journey.

  • Set up the physical or virtual discussion space. Whether the book discussion is taking place in person or virtually, create a space that is inviting. If your group will meet in person, pick a comfortable room free of distractions and arrange the seating in advance. For a virtual meeting, encourage your team members to show up with their video cameras in a space conducive to focus and participation. In either case, test the technology, and have any necessary visual aids or materials ready.

Use Best Practices and Tools for Meaningful Discussions

Group dynamics can be tricky. Keep the following tips in mind to keep the conversation flowing and maximize group participation:

  • Ask open-ended questions. Instead of binary questions like, “Has our team ever faced the kind of challenge the author is describing?” use open-ended questions that begin with how, why, when, or what. For example, “When was the last time we faced a similar challenge as a team?”

  • Allow everyone to speak. Don’t let more talkative team members dominate the discussion. Be mindful of quieter members, and invite their input as you ask questions.

  • Manage your time. Set aside blocks of time to discuss the topics that are most relevant to your team. It can be helpful to create a simple agenda so that team members can see the topics left to discuss. Be aware of tangents, and gently steer the conversation back to the main themes when necessary.

  • Encourage constructive feedback. Foster and model constructive feedback when disagreements arise. Help your team members guide the conversation to ideas rather than personal attacks.

  • Summarize key discussion points. Regularly summarize and highlight essential insights as they arise. Not only will this help consolidate ideas, it will also keep the conversation moving forward.

  • Use brainstorming exercises. Brainstorming exercises (like a round-robin exercise in which each participant takes turns sharing one idea at a time) can help ensure everyone gets an opportunity to contribute while minimizing interruptions and tangents.

  • Incorporate visual aids. Tools like whiteboards, flip charts, or sticky notes can help visually capture critical points, document everyone’s ideas, and encourage participation. This technique can be beneficial for visual learners.

Leading a solid book club discussion is an art—not a science. It takes preparation, finesse, and most of all, practice. Remember that you’re dealing with diverse human beings, essential topics, and big ideas. Stay flexible, and expect some spontaneity and unexpected detours. But as you prioritize these productive discussions, the payoff in stronger team relationships, group learning, and the development of power skills like communication and collaboration will help take your team to new heights of cooperation and growth.

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