🎭10 Employee Club Ideas to Start with Zero Budget
A Guide to Building Community with Meaningful Conversations & Last Chance to Register for Define Your Values Workshop on Jan. 31st
Will we see you at our first workshop on Jan. 31st? Register to reflect on a timely topic: Define Your Values.
When we share common experiences and feel connected to each other, communities form around us. That’s why employee groups matter even more at work — they are important for individual experiences, culture and the organization. In Harvard Business Review, The Value of Belonging at Work, Evan W. Carr, Andrew Reece, Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Alexi Robichaux wrote:
Social belonging is a fundamental human need, hardwired into our DNA…High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days…Employees with higher workplace belonging also showed a 167% increase in their employer promoter score (their willingness to recommend their company to others). They also received double the raises, and 18 times more promotions.
There are likely already many meaningful groups where you work that bring people together around important areas, such as Women, Asian Pacific Islanders, Hispanic or Native groups. My list of clubs compliments those essential core groups by helping employees find even more common interests and introduce additional topics to learn, discuss and spark creativity.
At a moment when time is limited, these clubs are basically zero cost (less than 15 minutes of your time to organize per month) and simple to scale up and maintain. Here are a few overall best practices to keep top of mind as you plan:
📝 Planning Principles
Monthly Meetings: A consistent cadence helps foster connections and creates a ritual — an elevated routine that makes a gathering feel special.
Beta Test: Not ready to commit? Pilot a few sessions before making it official.
Time Commitment: 30-minute gatherings to fit into anyone’s day.
Time Zones: Consider hosting different options to be as inclusive as possible.
🏆 Organizer Best Practices
Evaluate Interest: If you have extra time, review employee survey data to identify areas of interest. Ask a few colleagues what they think of the club concept or post a poll in your internal comms platform.
First Invite: Don’t overthink this — just jump in and try it! Write your pitch for why this is a great new group and post it.
Empower Partners: Create a signup sheet with future dates, name and the topic so that you can empower partners from the start. Include this link with your first invitation. If pre-reading or listening is encouraged in advance, consider limiting to 15-20 minutes.
Topic Guidance: Clarify topics to ensure they are work focused and not controversial such as politics.
Welcome: Always begin each session with an opening question in the chat. If the group is too large, create smaller rooms to ensure people can meet and participate.
Here are five employee club ideas — why to consider organizing around these areas, how to make them happen and what topics to feature.
🧰 The Tinkerers Society
📰 Newsletter Club
🧶 The EIRs — Experts in Residence
🧪 The Failure League
📁 Case Studies Circle
🧰 #1 The Tinkerers Society
Why: Learning and testing out new ideas spark creativity, inspire attendees and teach new skills. Here’s more from the Lemelson-MIT program:
“Invention education changes students’ lives by helping them learn how to develop problem-solving skills and ways of working with others to invent novel solutions that improve lives.”
The same approach can be taken in the workplace by studying innovation and experimenting with new tools and resources to help us think creatively.
How: Here’s a sample invitation to personalize for your workplace.
Join The Tinkerers Society [Date, Time] | RSVP
Are you the first to try a new product when it launches? Do you like learning about the stories behind innovation? Together, we’ll test out modern tools that help us become better researchers, writers, designers, note takers and more. We’ll also learn about inspiring inventions, past and present.
What: For current creations, consider featuring ideas from Product Hunt, a popular site for exploring new innovations daily:
writes which gives objective overviews and reviews. It’s a treasure trove of ideas! If you want to be inspired by kids, take a look at the Stories of Impact from the Invention Convention.
“It's a place for product-loving enthusiasts to share and geek out about the latest mobile apps, websites, hardware projects, and tech creations.”
For studying the past, The Smithsonian offers many incredible resources virtually through the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation Blog. There’s also a database to search across collections.
📰 #2 Newsletter Club
Why: We’re living in the newsletter era with many incredible publications launching daily. It takes time to discover and read all this content. Newsletters are a great way to learn about interesting topics, explore new ways of thinking and discuss what you’ve learned with peers. Plus, you also learn more about what interests your colleagues.
How: Here’s a sample invitation post to begin:
Introducing Newsletter Club [Date, Time] RSVP
There are many incredible newsletters to learn from on a variety of topics. We’ll gather monthly for 30 minutes to learn about each of our favorite newsletters, reading one edition and discussing it. Sign up to share on a future date here. Optional: comment below with a newsletter you enjoy reading!
Post your event in a shared communications channel where employees gather. Empower one team member to pick a newsletter to share at each session. You might need to message a few people privately to get them to sign up, but usually, there will be a few people willing to share.
For the presenters, give everyone a template of what they should share — one newsletter one week in advance of the gathering so people can read it! Then, a 5-minute intro including what the newsletter is about, why they like it and who writes it. Start the discussion with the edition that was selected. Invite people to share what they liked about it or what they learned from it and the conversation will flow.
What: With so many newsletters to choose from, this can go in many directions. You may want to emphasize the content should focus on a lesson we can apply to our work. Here are a few work-related newsletters to consider: Deb Liu writesabout careers, family and leadership, Evan Samek writes about incredible books, writes about careers, writes about product and business and the list goes on!
🧶 #3 The EIRs — Experts in Residence
Why: It’s very likely that your peers have a lot of knowledge to share. Consider learning from each other’s expertise by sharing a skill. This is a great way to encourage learning, but also introduce team members who might not always have that opportunity for face-time so be sure to open this up to all levels. For inspiration, check out Mailchimp’s Night School. Brand the series in a creative way that works for your organization.
How: Draft your pitch for why this is a great new group. Select a date/time for your first event and start a skill-sharing sheet for employees to share their expertise topics. When posting the first event, create a poll for everyone to vote on the topics of interest and share their expertise. Here’s a sample invite to get started:
Let’s Learn Together: The EIRs Experts in Residence | [Date Time] | RSVP
Design, Data Analytics, Storytelling, Improv Comedy are just a few of the skills many of you are already great at leading. Now, let’s share this knowledge with each other in lessons under 10 minutes. Tell us what skills you’d like to teach and vote on what you’d like to learn. We’re looking forward to skill-sharing together.
Schedule the most requested skill for the first event. Create a hosting guide with suggestions for a 7-10 minute presentation with template slides that introduce the topic and offer guidance on how to make it engaging. Record the presentation so that employees who can’t attend can still learn the skill and make the video available in a central spot. 20 minutes of time should focus on live Q&A so that employees can ask more about the topic.
What: Once you find out people’s talents, this will drive the calendar of events. Be cognizant of the diversity of speakers so that you are featuring all of the many talented people at your organization. If you have extra time, create a speakers training program and invite past presenters to share their best practices so that everyone can have an opportunity to share a skill. These are some popular topics to consider as well as ones that I’ve explored — Design for Non-Designers, Launch a Podcast, Make Meetings Matter, Start Writing Your Annual Report and many more.
🧪#4 The Failure League
Why: There’s a lot we can learn from failure, but it’s not talked about enough at work. Wharton Professor and Author Adam Grant is on a mission to change this:
How: Rotate facilitators. They don’t have to share their own flop, but can curate a failure story to discuss. Here’s a sample invite:
Join the Failure Faction: A Club to Discuss Mess-Ups [Date, Time] | RSVP
We celebrate wins, but research says there’s a lot we can learn from failure, if we just talked about it more often. Each session will showcase a story of failure and what we can learn from it. There will either be a live presentation by a peer or we’ll read an article from The Museum of Failure for inspiration.
Ensure you create a safe space for this club by setting ground rules. 20 minutes of time should focus on live Q&A so that employees can ask more about the topic.
What: Make it as easy as possible to talk about failure. There are a lot of great public failure stories to showcase, and you can draw from them. Listen to the Spectacular Failures podcast or scroll through the archives at the Museum of Failure, I picked out a few stories in this article: 🍔 What The Museum of Failure Can Teach us.
📁 #5 Case Studies Circle
Why: There’s a reason it’s the teaching method of choice at top business schools:
Pioneered by HBS faculty, the case method puts you in the role of the chief decision maker as you explore the challenges facing leading companies across the globe. Learning to think fast on your feet with limited information sharpens your analytical skills and empowers you to make critical decisions in real time. -Harvard Business School.
By tapping into this thinking model, employees will learn and grow together. And might even be great training for future challenges.
How: Note that case studies often require reading in advance and can be lengthy so if you’re asking people to read or listen in advance, ask them to listen to part of a story or make these sessions an hour long.
Case Studies Circle [Date, Time] | RSVP
Case Studies are the top teaching style at Business Schools. They tell a story about a major moment — how to transform a casino into a sustainable enterprise or navigating a crisis in the chocolate industry, the lessons learned from them are an exercise in critical thinking on leadership, ethics, strategy and more. Join us to learn from these pivotal professional experiences and how we can apply to our work. MBA not required to participate, just a curiosity to learn from business and nonprofits.
What: Since case studies are thoroughly researched for publication, there is a cost associated with them. But, there is a selection of selections available for free online — HBS Cases, Boston University and MIT Sloan. Also, consider inviting leaders to share failures that they have had at past organizations or even at your own. That vulnerability and transparency will go a long way with employees. In addition, there are great podcasts that summarize case studies — Cold Call from Harvard Business Review and Master in Business from Bloomberg.
Below are 5 bonus club ideas. I haven’t built out the detailed frameworks but link to separate guides and posts I’ve published to help you design your club. if you follow the same formula I outlined above, you’ll be hosting and gathering soon.
Field Trip Troubadours: Go somewhere together! Invite people to share a favorite place they’ve visited, a museum they appreciate or perhaps their hometown through photos and a virtual tour.
Podcast Club: There’s been a rise in podcast popularity. This (mostly) free resource can teach, inspire and learn in a short amount of time while you walk, cook or clean. Here’s why people like the genre so much, according to Listen Notes. Here’s my guide for hosting this club.
Show and Tell Society: Share a meaningful object, project or story. I’ve published a guide for how to facilitate this experience.
Children’s Book Club: With powerful lessons to share, children’s books can teach us a lot in a short number of pages. There’s even a book on this topic, reviewed by The Guardian. Here’s a list of 33 options from Buzz Feed.
Holiday Crew: Celebrate the cultural stories on your team by inviting employees to share traditions about important cultural moments. Here’s what I learned from this experience.
Do you have an idea for a great employee club to add to the list? Comment below with your suggestion. If you roll out any of these ideas at your organization, please let me know how it turns out!
Will we see you at our first workshop on Jan. 31st? Register to reflect on a timely topic: Define Your Values.
Thank you for reading The Switchboard. ☎️ Every edition is personally written by me — Julia Levy. Learn more about why I write. Review the Index of past posts.
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