Baltimore City Hall book club lets employees share ideas about leadership, teamwork

The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore employee book club discusses leadership, teamwork at latest meeting.

Baltimore municipal employees from a variety of departments — from parks to human resources to budget management — sat around a table in City Hall this week discussing leadership and teamwork.

The lunch meeting was not formal job training, but a book club.

Nine people took part in the most recent meeting of the Good Government Book Club, which has met every few months for the past five years and is open to all city employees.

Participants discuss a book with lessons about government, leadership and management. Previous readings include "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis, "A Prayer for the City" by Buzz Bissinger and "A More Beautiful Question" by Warren Berger.

With a worn paperback copy of "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown beside her sandwich and orange, Elva Tillman said Wednesday she enjoyed the motivational message and narrative nonfiction style of the club's most recent reading.

"I enjoyed every page of it," said Tillman, chief solicitor of the city Law Department. "I even read the end notes."

Andrew Kleine, the group's founder and the city's budget director, often selects the readings. The best books are not too long or technical, he said.

This most recent book told the story of the 1936 U.S. men's Olympic rowing team and the nine working-class men who overcame economic and social adversity.

Kleine learned about the book from his daughter, who joined a crew team during her freshman year in high school.

"I didn't at first think about it as a Good Government Book Club suggestion," Kleine said. "But then I did some research online and I was finding these articles about leadership lessons.'"

Peter Little, the Parking Authority's executive director, led the lunch discussion. Along with leadership and teamwork, the club talked about the role of Nazi propaganda, race and the Great Depression — all issues presented in the story.

The book highlights how team members have to recognize and rely on one another for success, said Kirsten Silveira, a city budget management analyst.

Some book club discussions have led to government initiatives, Kleine said. "Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough," by Mark Friedman, inspired the creation of OutcomeStat, which coupled various city database to provide measurable indicators for citywide goals.

In May, OutcomeStat won the Government Finance Officers Association 2017 Award for Excellence in Government Finance, Management and Service Delivery. The data project also led to Baltimore being named one of 12 new "What Works Cities" by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The club's first selection, "Extreme Government Makeover," by Ken Miller, generated discussion that led to the budget office's Lean Government program, which trained about 1,000 city employees to identify and remove inefficient practices.

John Kirk, recreation programmer for the Department of Recreation & Parks, said the book club facilitates interesting discussion and reminds him about the importance of reading.

Not every book leads to new programs or successful changes, Kleine said, but even small shifts in mindset can be beneficial.

"We're not necessarily changing the culture of city government," Kleine said. "Even if it helps a few people, whether it's in their own personal life or if they're taking some of these ideas into their work, it's worthwhile."

wmassey@baltsun.com

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