What We Do
"You will learn how others around you think and process information."
Senior Service Supervisor, Fairbanks Morse Engine
How does Books@Work work?
In a Books@Work program, up to twenty participants read books or short stories and meet for regular discussions facilitated by a college professor. Books@Work serves employees at every level of the organization across functions, within natural teams and among skip level groups.
A typical group reading full-length books meets for twelve one-hour sessions over three months, but we facilitate a range of design choices to best support the needs of your organization. Groups can meet weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or periodically, for an hour, 90 minutes or two hours, choosing full books or short stories, depending on preference, time available and meeting frequency.
What will we read?
At Books@Work, we don’t read business books. The human stories in fiction and narrative nonfiction invite our own stories, fostering the genuine connections required for healthy and inclusive cultures. We choose books, short stories, poems, plays or book excerpts (examples on our interactive bookshelf) that provoke deep discussion and become windows to deeper reflection, introducing us to new ideas and perspectives.
Books@Work has no predefined curriculum. Participant preferences guide the texts we choose, based on entry surveys and choices during the program. As a result, no two programs are exactly alike!
How can I use Books@Work in my organization?
Within natural or special teams
To foster deeper understanding at a human level and make debate second nature; become “tough on the problems, but gentle on the people.”
In cross-hierarchical groups
To develop trust and respect, and break down barriers across hierarchies.
In cross-functional groups
To create meaningful connections across an organization.
As part of a diversity & inclusion initiative
To leverage parallel narratives to discuss difficult topics like race, gender and unconscious bias.
As part of a workplace wellness initiative
To foster community and social interaction as part of a broader wellness and well-being effort.
As part of a larger cultural transformation
To create a culture of openness, respect and critical dialogue – from the top team to the front line.
In a “Big Read” offering
To engage many employees at once, we have read a story aloud to hundreds of employees, breaking into facilitated groups to discuss and compare ideas.
A Few Stories
When one group in an urban hospital read Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, they were confronted with a historical context they had never heard of before. “I’ll always remember the professor telling us ‘the victors write the history.’ That’s why we’d never heard these stories before.” The phrase stayed with her long after the seminar ended and changed her thinking about current events. She’s more inclined to watch the news now – and to seek out different sources on the same story.
Books@Work programs reinvigorate participants’ love of learning and pursuit of educational goals. After participating in a program with an executive team for many months, one administrative assistant returned to college to take a course. “She felt like she could pursue more. Now she edits my public writing,” the company president told us. He was impressed by her initiative – as well as by the fact that she felt comfortable sharing her learning with him, even if it happened to be in red pen!
In Their Words
What does it cost?
Approximately $5,000 per program* includes:
An honorarium for each professor.
Program planning, coordination and logistics, quality control, measurement and reporting.
Actual book costs. Books are intended to be retained by the participants.
As applicable, the cost of reimbursing professors for their expenses from school to the workplace.
I’m an employee – How can I get my company to host?
Consider how a Books@Work program might advance existing company objectives and strategies. These may include promoting diversity & inclusion, employee wellness, team building or leadership development.
Find a group of like-minded individuals who would be interested in participating. These may be members of the same team or a diverse group from across the organization.
Approach supervisors and managers to assess their willingness to sponsor the program and to participate themselves. For more information, or help in proposing or developing a program, please get in touch with us.
I’m a professor – what does it take to facilitate with Books@Work?
Identify a great text: An ideal text challenges and provokes readers by opening pathways to critical thinking, while remaining accessible to a general audience with little or no background knowledge.
Focus on the discussion: In each session, the book or story is a launching pad for thoughtful conversation and collaborative learning. Discussion is both the process and the product in a Books@Work seminar.
Remain flexible and open: The literary, personal and collective narratives converge in all Books@Work seminars, but never in the same way. Powerful connections emerge when the unique chemistry of the group drives the facilitation.
Books@Work staff members collaborate closely with professors to support the facilitation process. Interested in being a facilitator? Get in touch, read an interview with one of our professor partners or learn more about the scientific principles that undergird our work.
“I think if you go in as a professor first and foremost, that’s going to be tricky. You have to go in as a human being who has read this story and is really keen to explore it with other human beings. You have to have real empathy with the written word, and I think you have to be a keen reader yourself. Otherwise it’s possible to miss a lot of important nuance [in the text]. Some things are very clear, but it’s the undercurrents of a story that generate the complexity of its dilemmas. Teasing out those complexities is key.”
—Professor Clare Morgan, Oxford University