This morning at the IFCA conference, I had breakfast with Jill Lain Weaver, manager of public relations for Modern Woodmen, a fraternal financial services company in Rock Island, Illinois. We were chatting about books, and she told me about a great thing she does with her team that I just had to share.

Team Book Group

No, my little niece Kate's not on The Word Factory team (yet), but I love this picture of us reading together.

Once or twice a year, Jill's team reads a book together, like a book group for professionals. They've read all kinds of things, including Bowling Alone, a meaty tome that they divvied up so each person had to read only a few of the many chapters.

"It's a great way to do professional development when you don't have a big budget," Jill noted. So true. Finding books that can help develop the mindsets and skillsets you want your team to embody is a great way to get that movement started. You also could choose titles that deal with changes in your industry, or in the broader universe that impact your enterprise.

Sticky Learning

This is a great way to make sure the learning sticks, too, because it's more than just reading. It's reading, digesting, interpreting, sharing and discussing. That's a robust experience that enhances everyone's ability to soak up the good stuff. And if it creates a common vocabulary for your team to talk about the topic, even better. Clearer communications is always a win!

And when team members begin to put the learning to use, they have a built-in support structure in the other readers. It's always easier to try new things when we know other people are trying them, too -- and that we can rely on them to help us get past obstacles and challenges.

(I've seen this work outside of business, too. When Steve and I were working with the Phoenix Union High School District, one group of teachers did a book group on Teaching with Love & Logic and Courage to Teach, two important books for educators. The activity encouraged more teachers to read the book and gave them a wonderful support system when they decided to try some of the practices.)

Better Teams

I also love this idea because it strengthens the team. This is especially valuable for multi-generational teams like Jill's, which encompass Gen X, Gen Y and Baby Boomers. This activity enables team members to see what they have in common and understand better they ways in which their views are different. That creates better relationships, which we all know are the key to an effective team.

Work on a distributed team? You could still do it. Just start a hangout in Google+ or another video-chatting option. Or SKYPE call. (But I like the idea of everyone being able to see each other better).

A Reputation Builder

I also see an opportunity to share the take-aways with a broader audience in your organization or in a professional group or even your own blog. Sharing your insights (and/or that of your entire group) is a great way to build your reputation and show what you know.

Internally, this showcases you as a learner and a person who's interested in developing others in the organization. Externally, people will see you as an informed person who's on top of things and is willing to share expertise. Either way, you win.

What do you think of this idea?

What books do you think your team should read? I suggested Seth Godin's Linchpin.