Beyond the Book: The Real Value of a Book Club

August 28, 2019

Fellow book club members describe their experiences

There is no shortage of posts on this blog about our book club at work. I am often approached by Front and Centered subscribers, asking me how to kick one off and what motivated people to join. It’s interesting – what started as a small initiative to get to know our own team members on a more personal basis has evolved to something that has included many participants throughout the company and beyond.

In the history of my 30+ career (and 18 years at SEI), it’s by far one of my favorite experiences. It took very little effort and planning to kick it off, and yet it has had a profound impact on relationship-building with an absolutely fantastic group of individuals I am lucky enough to call colleagues. In light of the growing interest from others, this week, I asked some of my fellow book club members to share what it means to them and why they attend. (Pictured from left to right: Brenna Sermarini, Dana Landes, Kathryn Ziemba and Rick Deak.PB-US-book-club-members-inline

Brenna Sermarini:

I don’t think you can overstate the value that the book club meetings bring to employees. I actually first began to attend the meetings as an intern, when my manager encouraged me to go with her. By being involved, I felt so much more connected to SEI and its culture, which was ultimately a factor in my decision to come back full time, post-grad.

When the internship ended, I kept in touch with my manager and attended one of the meetings; this was a great way for me to still feel connected to SEI and its people, while I was finishing my last year of school. Fast forward to one year on the team, and I am still so excited to attend the meetings. 

I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I am always asking my peers about what they are reading. The group provides an opportunity for self-improvement, and it also gives me the opportunity to connect with coworkers – including those from other departments with whom I wouldn’t normally interact. 

The diversity of thought and open environment make me comfortable to bring my authentic self and share my ideas and interests, and I get to learn new perspectives along the way.

The book club encourages me to read books that I normally wouldn’t pick out for myself (although, the book that I nominated was just chosen as our next reading…yay!). Even after the meetings, I often end up passing the book along to others to read. It’s such a fun, inviting experience that feeds perfectly into the company culture, and I plan to attend for as long as possible.

Dana Landes:

About a week or so after I started at SEI, I received an email about the book club. I was really excited because I’ve always wanted to be part of a book club, and as a new employee, I thought it would be a great way to meet new people at the company. Since then, I’ve attended every book club meeting I was in town for.

What I enjoy most about the book club is getting together with people “outside of the office.”

I put that in quotes because while the meetings are held on campus, the conversations that take place typically aren’t work related. When we get together, there are no VPs or managers or “entry levels” – only people who all read the same book. I really appreciate the fact that I get to see another side of the people that I work with.

Kathryn Ziemba:

When I first heard about the SEI Book Club, I quickly inquired if I had to be part of the team running it in order to attend. I was excited when I learned that was not the case and I was invited to join. Great! Hold on a second. Will there be vegan options? I was assured that there would be.

What I like about book club is that you never know who is going to show up.

That’s a good thing. New voices make the discussions lively. One insight adds to another and you start thinking about new ideas or connections with the book and, more importantly, with people.

Even when the book selected is one that you don’t like, you still benefit from the discussion and the comradery with your fellow readers. (Sorry, I didn’t care for All the Light We Cannot See. I trudged through it. I went to the meeting and made my opinions known and respected others for sharing their opinions.)

The hardest part about book club is voting for the next book to read. How can you choose just one from the recommendations? I can usually get it down to 2-3 selections. After voting, I go to Chester County Library System’s website and put a hold on some of the “losers.” Keep those recommendations coming – I’ve enjoyed reading unchosen books.

For me, our book club is about nurturing the mind and building relationships with people who share a love of learning. Besides, we need to keep our minds sharp as we get older.

Rick Deak:

The book club is an opportunity to engage in serious and meaningful discussions with colleagues about topics not directly related to our everyday business responsibilities. We become a better team because we know each other better.

These discussions provide me with insights regarding my colleagues, which deepen my understanding of their perspectives and thought processes.

The book club requires me to read books I would not have otherwise chosen. It requires me to consider topics and perspectives that are often outside of my comfort zone, but which are important to people I respect and with whom I work. The book club pushes me to investigate subjects that enable me to make connections with my work colleagues.

I work with many talented and interesting people. The book club is an opportunity for me to have intelligent discussions with perceptive people from diverse backgrounds.  

I can’t thank each of you enough for sharing your thoughts on book club and the value it brings to you as individuals. I encourage anyone who has attended a book club meeting with us to share your thoughts below. Inside or outside of SEI, our book club is always open to new members. And if you are looking for meaningful ways to strengthen personal and professional relationships, I highly recommend something like this at your own company. Looking forward to the next meeting in September!

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Al Chiaradonna