Why starting a book club with your co-workers can help you be more successful

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We keep tabs on what top leaders are reading or recommending, so why not start a book club with your colleagues? A book club can help both an organization and its staff grow, according to career and leadership experts.

For business professionals, book clubs are an opportunity to develop emotional intelligence, foster relationships and improve as communicators, according to John Coleman in the Harvard Business Review. And several business scholars have even praised reading fiction (here's a list of popular titles for office book clubs). Moreover, book clubs can boost employee performance.

"The act of reading in a community can help you read more deeply and better understand diverse perspectives," Coleman writes. "Engaging with diverse content — fiction, history, biography, social science — can pull you out of your day-to-day routine and help you make connections between ideas from other fields that might be relevant to your work or life."

Even if you never would have picked the selection, a book club challenges you to think differently. Studying another workplace's culture broadens your perspective. Discussing a narrative tests your views and opinions, and how you express them. Observing a colleague's reaction to a text is valuable insight for future encounters (looking at you, introverts).

For what it's worth, billionaire Warren Buffett is a voracious reader. But reading in public, as Mark Zuckerberg has said on Facebook, can hold you accountable to actually finishing a book.

The benefits of reading at any age are innumerable, yet about 26 percent of Americans haven't read a single book in a year.

Warren Buffett
David A. Grogan | CNBC

A book club, of course, isn't a substitute for networking or finding a great mentor. Employees who are considering starting a book club should remember that workplaces can be slippery, Brenda Fellows, an industrial/organizational psychologist and adjunct professor at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, tells CNBC's Make It.

"It's a political environment, and it's very cliquish," Fellows said.

Book club selections should be based on organizational or individual goals, Fellows said. The takeaways could even surprise you.

At Goodreads, the book-sharing website acquired by Amazon, one group read Tara Mohr's "Playing Big," which is aimed at women navigating their careers, co-founder and editor-in-chief Elizabeth Khuri Chandler tells CNBC's Make It. "We had male engineers come to us and say, 'this is actually really useful to me.'"

Once you've started a book club, you should also set a "sunset time," to limit the months or years you spend meeting with the same people, according to leadership coach Constance Dierickx. Dierickx says discussion questions should also provoke enough tension to prevent bandwagoning or groupthink.

"You're not enlightened by your own shadow," Dierickx says.

A book club can be an affordable, informal way to grow as a leader. Here are some reasons to consider starting one with your co-workers:

Solve problems more inventively

A book is packed with research and points of view outside of your daily grind, according to Dierickx. An organization's top brass can become "company-centric," or refer back simplistically to their own organization's experience when solving a problem.

"There's no organization that owns all the knowledge and ideas. An expansive mind with breadth of knowledge is priceless. Absolutely priceless," Dierickx says. At some companies, including Warby Parker and GoodReads, reading about other companies' strategies has been instrumental in developing their own.

For instance, Goodreads' Khuri Chandler says her staff read the best-seller "Creativity, Inc.," written by Pixar's co-founder Ed Catmull. Now, Goodreads staffers might say, "Pixar approached the problem this way," Khuri Chandler says, "and we all know what we're talking about because we've read the same book."

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
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Become a better conversationalist

A strong vocabulary can radically improve your public speaking and negotiation skills. "Being able to use language well is powerful in terms of being able to communicate your ideas, to sell your ideas, to influence people, to inspire people," Dierickx says.

In addition, if you work in a technical field such as engineering or design, developing exceptional literacy can help you grow as a leader. "People who have a technical skill and a language skill end up having the most opportunity. It's kind of a rare combination," Dierickx says.

A book club will motivate you to become a better listener, too.

Broaden your network

Depending on your organization's style, a book club can an opportunity for employees at different levels or in different departments to mix.

At Goodreads, Khuri Chandler organizes groups with this in mind: "It's good for entry-level employees or newer people to stand up and have a voice, and a book club is a good place to do it," she says.

In a book club, employees can invest in one another's growth. "You are responsible for your own development," Dierickx says. "Getting in that frame of mind and getting to know people with that same notion — you can get on that together."

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