How Reading Together Can Transform Your Team Yep, reading is awesome!
If you’ve been the leader of a team where the atmosphere is biting and the culture is toxic, you know how overwhelming it is to turn things around. After all, you can’t exactly force people to get along. However, there is something you could begin doing today to transform your culture into one that fosters personal growth, connection, consistent improvement, and exemplary customer service.
Reading together as team.
As leaders, sometimes we wish we could simply infuse certain values into our team. Just like a nurse injecting an antibiotic into a patient, one action and we’re done. But it’s rarely that simple in leading people. So in an attempt to achieve the culture we want, many of us resort to cajoling, parenting, or preaching. But pushing our ideas on others is rarely effective.
As we grow our leadership, we must find creative approaches to encourage an environment of teamwork. One of the most efficient ways I have ever experienced is reading together as a team. There has not been one time that I have tried this with my team that it was not powerfully transformative. It may not make all your team’s troubles disappear, but you will see a palpable difference in the culture, often immediately.
I would like to share four benefits you can expect, a couple of methods to try, and five principles to remember as you consider reading with you team. It will cost you little in terms of time or financial commitment, but it’s guaranteed to naturally transform the culture of your team.
Four Benefits of Reading Together
- Uplifts the culture. When people sit together to learn, there is an unspoken sense that none of us know everything. We position ourselves to look for answers together. We rally around the same desire to grow, individually and as a team. I think most leaders want to share these values with their teams. Reading together can achieve that for us immediately.
- Bonds people. In these moments of learning and sharing, titles and positions fade and people participate as equals. When the CEO and the cashier sit next to one another to share and to grow from the same resource of knowledge, relationships are transformed. In those few moments we are all in the same role: students.
- Facilitates discussion of sensitive topics. Discussing the content of a book evokes dialogue in a non-confrontational or awkward way. It centers our discussions around a topic, and not around a person or a situation.
- Opens guarded people. Occasionally, you may encounter team members who are shy, guarded, or have difficulty expressing themselves, individuals who struggle to integrate with the team. When well-facilitated, group discussions over a book can soften difficult or closed people, those who may not otherwise open up. And it will allow you, as the leader, the opportunity to hear what they truly think.
Two Methods for Reading Together
READING THE SAME BOOK: One method for reading together requires that everyone read the same book. The book can be selected by the team or by the leader. Ideally the topic of the book is chosen in order to facilitate discussion and learning around an area in which the team needs to grow. A dedicated number of chapters are read weekly by all the members of the team and discussed together.
The advantage to this method is that it allows the team and the leader to focus on one topic together for a set number of weeks. This can be especially valuable when there are issues specific to your team, which need to be addressed. For example, if you think your team can grow in the area of community service, choose a book on that topic so that the discussions have an immediate impact on the particular needs of your team.
READING DIFFERENT BOOKS: Another approach for reading together requires that everyone read a different book. This method requires that you create a list of topics that the team is allowed to choose from. Each week, one of the members of your team presents a book that they’ve completed.
Our team currently chooses books that promote personal growth, leadership, teamwork, spirituality, communication, emotional control, habits, success, or discipline. Last week, Stephanie presented a great book on communication.
The advantage of this method is that it allows people the freedom to choose any book they deem beneficial to the team or to themselves personally. The variety this method provides can introduce a wealth of different topics and related discussions. Just be watchful that these are still open discussions, and not lectures.
Five Important Principles to Apply
- Make it about application, not philosophy. It is imperative that the conversation does not get minimized to a simple summary or book report. Reading together should produce a discussion about application. As the facilitator for the discussion, you must insist that these two questions be addressed:
Based on what we just read, how can we grow as a team?
Based on what we just read, how can I grow as an individual?
Our people will be standing up in front of everyone answering these questions. Discussing how to improve as a team or as individuals is quite powerful and immediately transformative. It impacts us as individuals as we participate in shaping the destiny of our team.
When the presenter shares, “Based on what I read in this book, here is what I need to personally apply.” This promotes a culture of humility, accountability, openness, and healthy vulnerability, leading to positive changes in individuals and the team.
- Make it fun. Make it your responsibility, as the leader, to create an enjoyable atmosphere. Your team will learn more when they feel at ease. I love it when we laugh together as a team. It draws us together.
- Be gentle. Some people have not read a book in years. Some do not like to read. And still others cannot find time for reading. Regardless of each person’s feelings on reading, as the leader, talk to everyone before you begin, one-on-one. See where they are on their journey of personal growth. Help them move forward. But be gentle. I ask people to pick a book that is at least 100 pages. And we laugh when I tell them, “with no pictures.” Just keep the experience light. People will not want to learn if it becomes a daunting burden.
- Start from the beginning. When you hire new people, clearly communicate the value your organization esteems for personal development and team growth, which includes reading together.
- Choose a time. Decide on a time to study a book together. In my experience, allotting 20-30 minutes during our weekly team meetings works very nicely.
Actionable Step: Choose one of the two methods above to read with your team. Talk to each of them individually and gauge their readiness and willingness to participate. If you have the budget, be prepared to pay for the books if needed. Your willingness to invest in your people will demonstrate how much you value growth.
Wes Saade, MD
About Me: I am embarrassed to reveal this, but yes, I have a “clap on, clap off” lamp near my bed. Every time I use it, I laugh at myself. But I must admit, I enjoy not having to walk to the lamp to turn it off and on, especially when I wake up in the morning and want to do some work in bed.
For Further Reading: