Is a Peer Group Right for Me?

peer group

Across the expanse of your business career, you will eventually come to a point where you conclude you need an independent resource for counsel. Because of the challenges of today’s business climate and the speed of disruptive forces that come seemingly out of nowhere, business leaders need to develop true 360-degree vision.

One resource business owners should explore is a facilitated peer group. Though this is often the last place folks look, peer groups are the next likely step beyond your paid advisors and industry or civic business groups. Peer groups offer tremendous value in a confidential and collaborative setting. Industry groups, entrepreneurial groups and the like are peer groups, but all are not equal and not usually bound by a confidentiality agreement. Though many offer educational series and forums to interact with other members, a facilitated peer group offers a unique experience. Comprised of experienced executives in a wide range of industries with varying degrees of complexity, these groups offer the greatest challenge to your thinking, a broader experience base from which to draw helpful solutions and an accountability process to ensure you do what you say you are going to do. This accountability feature is what will make your time and energy payoff, providing the highest return on the time and money you invest.

What is a facilitated peer group?

This is a group led by a facilitator: a professionally trained executive coach, who is generally an experienced business leader as well. As the chair of the group, their job is to organize an agenda that provides the members with an educational component; through lecturers, selected readings and other relevant information, a facilitated peer group provides a contemporary view of the competitive world members work in. It is also a group bound by the strictest confidentiality, in order to lay the groundwork for mutual problem solving. These groups exist for members to solve problems, assess opportunities and to relieve the pressures that result from “going at it alone”. A peer group is also an environment of accountability, where the members are responsible to each other for their level of participation and accountable for taking action on their issues to which their fellow members offered insights and solutions.

How is it truly confidential?

A well-constructed peer group avoids conflicts of interest by ensuring the members are from non-competing industries. This is one of the great advantages of peer groups over industry group. These groups are designed for you to provide all the context of your business without the concern that a fellow member will learn about vulnerability and take advantage of that knowledge. Therefore, peer groups insist on a signed pledge of confidentiality.

Is a peer group right for me?

With the potential benefits of education, confidentiality, accountability, advice from peers and solutions, this may sound like “just what the doctor ordered”. But despite the opportunities for personal and professional development a peer group may present, the truth is, these groups are not for everyone. In particular personality traits may inhibit one’s ability to participate in and benefit from a peer group. Before signing on to join one, have an honest conversation with yourself and consider these questions before making your decision:

  • Am I willing to be an active contributor in a group?

  • Will I make the commitment to listen, learn, be thoughtful and take a genuine interest in my fellow members’ issues in order to provide meaningful insight and counsel? Think of this as “insightful empathy”.
  • In return, am I willing to open up and be vulnerable? Am I willing to give other members the whole story? A good group will mine for the root causes and issues: are you up for being open?
  • Am I willing to take input and feedback from other group members, and to be held accountable to them for carrying out the actions I promised to take on a schedule I agreed to follow? Members who habitually fail to do this can be asked to leave the group, so be prepared to act on your commitments, or have an alternative as the facts or circumstances change.

  • Am I joining this group in hopes of making a new customer? Most groups prohibit business activity between members as future conflicts in those dealings could be detrimental to group dynamics.

If all the above resonates with you, then the final frontier is commitment. How committed will you be? Will you manage your schedule in a way that prioritizes attending group meetings? Time is often an objection when joining a peer group. Time is precious and we all have the same amount to allocate – essentially none. But, as a philosopher once said, “There is never time for good health, but ill health gets all the time it needs!” Or, as Barry Glassner writes in his recent Wall Street Journal article “Leadership Tips for College Presidents and CEOs”, “Act like a president and take control”. It’s your company: your business and its people deserve the best leader you can be.

As the saying goes, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown”; share the burden and find a peer group that is right for you. You’ll gain exclusive insights into today’s business world and find solutions to your organization’s problems with the help of like-minded, well-experienced peers. And if this can help you sleep easier at night, it’s well worth the investment of your time and energy.