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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Discussion Mandatory Maintenance-- The Annual Discussion About the Discussion Group

Each year in December, our book group meets 2 hours early to have a pot luck lunch and chat. We always leave time before we start discussing the book to have our annual discussion about the discussion group. We had this meeting on Monday.

No matter how good your group is, no matter how well you think you work together, you must take some time at least once a year and have an honest discussion about the group-- the group dynamic, your leadership, the book choices, EVERYTHING.

The first few times we tried this with the group it was definitely uncomfortable.  People did not want to offer suggestions or even openly discuss any issues they were having.  But there were issues and I was able to coax them out.

We began small: they didn't like me sitting at the head of the table, so I moved to the middle.

Then, we started getting more serious: they were not happy with the books even though they voted and we mostly took the majority winners.  We worked together to fix the problem by making the ballot allow votes for up to 8 books for the 6 month period.  This actually allowed 5 clear choices to rise to the top, instead of 3 or 4. Allowing people to vote for 8 books gave us a clearer picture of what the group as a whole was most interested in.

But, it took until year 3 for people to begin to openly talk about the problems with our group dynamics.  This led to our creation of group and leader norms, a topic I talk about at length in this article and in this presentation.

Although we just ended year 13 of the group [with one original member in attendance on Monday], this is only year 5 of the annual discussion about the discussion group.  But I would have to say, this year's discussion was the most open we have ever had.

So, while I will have notes on our discussion of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore up by the end of the week, right now, I will list the notes from our discussion about the group.

Please consider undertaking a similar discussion with your groups.  I can tell you from experience, every group needs it and every group will benefit from it.  It will be very awkward at first, but you will see positive results from an open and honest dialog about how your group functions.

Here are the notes in the order they came up:

  • The selections this year were "astounding." By this I do not mean each book was spectacular, or even that I liked every book, but rather, as a whole they made for an intriguing year of discussions
  • Some of our more recent books were hard to get into, but I powered through because I knew the discussion would be worth the slog.
  • I want to try another graphic novel.  We did Fun Home almost two years ago now.  I think we should do another.
  • I also want to try a YA book. I am intrigued by the YA books my friends are reading, but wouldn't know where to go to pick one for myself. And, I wouldn't read it on my own, but I would consider reading it so we could discuss it together.
    • Someone chimed in that this was okay, but no zombies or dystopias. There were giggles.
  • I like how much respect we show each other. There is also a great level of trust here. We all have shared personal stuff, but it is a safe environment to do that in.
  • There have been months where I have thought that this particular book was not my cup of tea, but I knew someone in the group would like it and I could learn from them.
  • I love our diversity in our backgrounds and education and interests.  Our varied experiences make the discussion better.  
  • All of the books I read here I wouldn't have picked off the shelf myself. I love that.
  • We had a couple of group dynamic specific suggestions:
    • I was in a church group recently and we tried something I would like to try here.  Instead of voting on how we felt about the book at the start and then having volunteers share their initial responses, we should pair up and talk in pairs about our initial reactions for a few minutes and then each pair can present to the group on what they thought and learned from each other. The woman who suggested this said it would give us all a chance to practice listening to each other right from the get go.  The way we do it now puts an emphasis on sharing right away, but not as much on listening.  It usually takes us a few minutes to start listening to each other; this would make listening important from the get go.
    • What about a "pass the baton" start to each discussion?  We could start with a volunteer who shares one thought about the book, she passes it to the next person who either talks or chooses to pass.
I hope this helps you to help your group to have wonderful book discussions together:

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