Running a reading group at work

Do you have a copy of <insert highly recommended technical book> on your shelf that you just can't seem to start? Then try reading it as a team!

As an organizer it's low stakes practice in leadership. In most organizations opportunities with these characteristics are few and far-between.

Learning new things can be taxing. A group setting provides highly contextual support and a chance for people to trade vulnerability for understanding.

Planning

  • Assign 1-2 hours of reading for the first session.
  • Select the next set of pages at the end of each session. Always come with a suggestion of your own but build consensus with the group before making it final.
  • It's useful to provide section / chapter headings as some folks may be reading from PDF, E-book, or possibly different editions.

Scheduling

  • If possible, meet two days a week as this will keep subject matter fresh in people's minds.
  • Set yourself and others up for success; try to schedule sessions on days that are a bit lighter on meetings. There will always be that day that you or someone else doesn't get to the reading until right before the meeting.
  • Schedule a recurring meeting for both days and fill in the reading as it's assigned.
  • Occasionally pop reminders in your learning or team channel the morning of each session.

Running a Session

  • Ask if everyone was able to get through the assigned reading.
    • If not, refrain from leading with a bare, "why". Instead, try "should reduce the page count next time around, or was the material just really dense this time?"
  • Ask how everyone felt about the reading. If they had trouble with it, why? I found tons of commonality with folks about certain parts of the book and it made me feel a lot better about that!
  • Open to the starting page/section and make your way through each section delivering a short summary.
    • Eventually you can start asking for others to deliver a summary. This option helped me a lot when I was personally having trouble with a given section.
  • Before leaving a section, ask, "did anyone have any questions or trouble understanding the content?"
  • With your own suggestion at-the-ready, ask "looking ahead at the next section/ chapter do we think we can accomplish pages X through Y?" give people time to look at the content and attempt to reach concensus. The first few times you might be met with a lot of shrugs, this will get better.
  • Thank everyone for coming to the session, call out kudos to folks that put themselves out there to explain a concept to the group or were the first to share a frustration with a given subject.
  • Update the calendar entry for the next session with the assigned reading.
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