Why we started a company-wide book club

By Catherine Mittelholtz on Jan 2, 2020 3 min read

A core belief at Zeitspace is that it's important to constantly learn more about our craft. And that doesn't just mean learning a new programming language for developers or a research technique for designers. We want everyone at the company to feel comfortable talking about product design and development from any perspective. We've established a few practices to bolster this, such as design and development critiques and a weekly company-wide sharing session to demo projects or a topic that interests someone. We also host Zeitspace Sessions to share our knowledge with the outside world (along with sponsoring Fluxible and supporting meetups such as Product Tank Waterloo and uxWaterloo).

Another practice that's taken off in 2019 is a company-wide book club. This past year we covered three books: Inspired by Marty Cagan, An Elegant Puzzle by Will Larson, and Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden. With each one, we took a deeper dive into each intended discipline but also gained insight into how to better learn as a team and share our collective knowledge.

Lean UX is a book that lends itself very well to “learn by doing.” Activities gave us a chance to put the ideas presented into practice and also allowed people who may not have had a chance to read the related chapters to participate. Another pleasant side effect? Breaking up into smaller groups gave those who are quieter a chance to speak up and share those thoughts with the larger team.

Both Inspired and An Elegant Puzzle are a little more prescriptive in their writing, making it difficult to dynamically generate discussion outside of a simple agree/disagree. For this style of book, planning a specific topic of discussion or set of questions gives people some context to frame their reading. In a team of people who have varying experiences, these books provide a useful framework to communicate core methodologies and a shared understanding of how the team works from a process perspective.

Book Club has also been a way to see how some of our other practices can work in a different context. As part of our wrap up of Lean UX, we did a group retrospective on the book and how we can carry out the things we learned, a common activity at the end of a project sprint. Instead of simply reading about how things work for other people, it gave us insight into which aspects of UX our team is most interested in expanding on, and what actions we can take to improve our existing processes.

We're kicking off 2020 with The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. Having a delightfully inclusive company where everyone feels comfortable participating is a big part of the Zeitspace culture. Learning to communicate and work effectively with each other while being respectful of our differences is crucial to our success and the success of our clients.

This is also our first book written by an author who doesn't identify as male. We value the perspectives that diversity in gender, ethnicity, or life experience brings to our team, and it's important that our teachers and learning materials reflect that same diversity. Unconscious bias is just as present on bookshelves as in boardrooms, and unfortunately, topics presented by minority voices can often be overlooked or deemed less important. We're incredibly lucky to have people from many cultures and backgrounds working with us and can't wait to see what we're able to introduce to each other through the lens of Meyer's words.

Catherine Mittelholtz

Written by Catherine Mittelholtz

Catherine Mittelholtz is a software engineer at Zeitspace.