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Employee Learning Circles


Book Club Nonprofit Case Study

The use of book clubs is often relegated to social groups for people who share common personal interests.  They provide opportunities to delve into a story or theory and hear diverse perspectives; a wonderful way to learn and grow by hearing another’s interpretation.  After all, we all have different past experiences, educations, thoughts, emotions that shape our views.  It doesn’t always mean that you adopt the other perspective but with an open mind, willingness to share, and mutual respect a great deal of learning can occur.  

When you hold a book club for a workgroup it can create a powerful teambuilding experience. The experience provides personal growth, career growth, increased cooperation, and understanding of group culture that ultimately increases profitability, decreases turnover, and provides job satisfaction.  This type of experience demonstrates how a group of people can create a learning circle for optimal growth. Below are insights taken from recent nonprofit team book clubs using the TIGERS Among Us book as an opportunity for growth and connectedness. 

In these scenarios with the book including 8 chapters, we had an initial meeting to introduce the process, discuss ground rules for our meetings and the schedule.  Participants read a chapter every two weeks and answered 3-5 questions regarding how the information related to their current team and role as well as their experience in other jobs and relationships.  One participant was assigned an overview of the chapter and one was assigned to guide answers to the questions with a facilitator to monitor conversation, hold to ground rules, encourage additional discussion, and to relate conversation to pre-determined expectations based on prior team surveys and research.  One final meeting concluded the experience with a take home recap of key insights and action items developed to reinforce the culture which the group aspires to be more like.   


The discussion in itself creates real change without simply a laundry list of to dos.   The experience serves as teambuilding and opens a team up to talk about more than just their day-to-day work.  Reflection and discussion provide actionable insight into how the organization can grow.  Opportunities for how to incorporate positive change are weekly reminders and reinforced through the duration of sessions so that participants leave with new habits of being intentional that become second nature once the sessions are over. 

gnome in the flowers

 The experience provides personal growth, career growth, increased cooperation, and understanding of group culture that ultimately increases profitability, decreases turnover, and provides job satisfaction. 



To be empathetic.  To trust.

Case studies within the book for different leaders and how they handled situations differently brought participants to an understanding that there isn’t a recipe that will work for every person or every organization.  And in working through scenarios, you can’t expect people to give and receive feedback in the same way so having an understanding of who they are and knowing who you are can help you to approach conversations in a way that let everyone win.  And when in doubt, being genuine, sharing, and listening is the best anyone can do. 

Ask for help when you need it.

Regardless of how simple this statement is it isn’t always a comfortable place to be.  People often default into making assumptions about themselves or others that keep them from asking for what they need.  Sometimes it is just as simple as asking.

Feedback is a gift but sometimes a painful one.

In a collaborative culture where everyone is trying to do better and be better it is helpful to have feedback and insight from others who see you in action.  Just like an athlete being coached, the insight helps to develop their skills and become better.  But being vulnerable and exposing another’s vulnerabilities can be tricky.  This is where intention, empathy, and genuineness are your key tools.

This opens a door to have intentional conversations about our organization.

The word intentional can take a goal from being a pipedream to being tomorrow’s reality.  Thinking back to examples of the values of Trust, Interdependence, Empathy, Risk, and Success have shown up in a positive or negative ways in the workplace creates the opportunity.  Commitment to debriefing and finding alternative ways to handle the negative examples and ways to reinforce the positive ones creates the intention.

Team engagement thru teambuilding

Small efforts to get together outside of the workplace or even for a short conversation in the workplace give insight that help you to better understand, support, and ask for help.  Studies show there is a psychological advantage to having friends in other departments that result in being more careful when handing off work.  Ultimately creating less duplication of efforts and more understanding of the importance of your own accountabilities.

Insight Timer survey
lotus in foreground

Being frank and honest doesn’t have to feel mean and helps people make decisions with all the information in mind.

People have a natural tendency not to want to rock the boat and will often ignore anything confrontational.  By having an open conversation and creating ground rules, people know it is okay and actually useful to provide counterinformation or speak their mind.  Group think keeps teams from being innovative, productive, and solving problems.  In addition, when the extra energy is spent talking about these situations and creating the safety to discuss, employees have a greater sense of commitment.  It isn’t just the place they go every day to do that thing that they do.  They are invested in the team effort and want to see the group succeed. 

It’s important to know a little bit about everyone’s job and their personal lives to work more effectively together.

Getting to know each other and what’s going on outside of work does more than just increase happiness in the workplace.  But isn’t that a good enough reason on its own?  In fact, knowing someone personally can create more accountability, less duplication of efforts, and make it easier to ask for or offer support to someone.


Among responses of how the book club helped the team were:

  • Gain a better understanding of how we can work more effectively
  • Gain a better understanding of our work culture
  • Build more camaraderie
  • Discuss sensitive issues of working together

The experience helped me personally to:

  • Be more genuine

  • Learn how to be intentional with values in building our organization

  • Try and be a better communicator or listener 

Professional Development

While decreased employee turnover is a common outcome for getting together in this way, the experience doesn’t always mean employees are meant to stay long term.  Often the result is individual growth and understanding of what employees want for their long-term career development. 

The immediate result creates an environment where employees respect each other and the organization, create a more open conversation about needs with an opportunity for retention, and create more structure and training that helps ease their transition out of their role and the training of someone new taking over.  In the long-term investing time and money in an employee is a vote of confidence by the employer and an opportunity for the employee to become a more valuable asset at this job and throughout the rest of their career. 

Put it into Practice

Learning circles can be done without a structured book club.  For any common goal or challenge consider a structured group conversation to look at the topic from multiple angles.  And don’t forget to discuss your ground rules ahead of time.  How do you want things to go?  How can you encourage more participation, a safe space that creates more openness, and greater learning that creates a stronger team? 



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