The Power of Peer Teams

Caroline Santos had worked hard to build her small business. She started in the 2nd bedroom of her house, working at nights and on weekends while she held her day job to pay the bills. It was two years before she could afford to resign from her day job and focus solely on her custom jewelry business. Then the business really took off. Two years later and she finally had what felt like a real business – an office, seven employees, loyal customers, a written business plan and best of all, profits!

Caroline arrived at work one morning to find that one of her employees had stolen a significant amount of jewelry and left town. A few days later, her business partner – a friend for 10 years, announced that she was leaving to start her own business, as a competitor! Caroline was angry, overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next. Enter Caroline’s peer team.

Caroline had joined an organization called EO (Entrepreneur’s Organization) six months earlier. As part of her membership, she was assigned to a forum – a group of 10 non-competing entrepreneurs that met monthly to discuss business issues. Caroline had grown to value her forum as a source of knowledge, ideas and sometimes, an empathetic ear. Caroline didn’t want to wait till next month to ask her forum for help and she knew she could call an emergency meeting of her forum. So she put out the call for help and later that afternoon, she had nine fellow business owners sitting at a table with her as she walked through the messy situation.

Three hours later she had a plan, developed through the connections, ideas and experiences of her fellow forum members. It was more than she could have accomplished on her own in three weeks. And it included a plan to protect herself from a future repetition of the same mess.

The power is in the peer team – the opportunity to talk with someone who is or has been in the same situation.

Peer teams are not a new concept. Informal peer teams have been meeting for hundreds of years – artists, scientists,musicians, religious groups, sports enthusiasts. Regardless of the common interest that brings these people together, they find comfort, inspiration and knowledge through their association.

Consider Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), founded in 1935 by Bill W. Today, this organization is a worldwide community with an estimated two million members. What these people have in common is a disease called alcoholism. What they gain from AA is hope for a better future and support from other people who have experienced the exact, same disease.

Consider Weight Watchers, an organization dedicated to helping people achieve and maintain their ideal weight. What these people have in common is a desire to lose weight. They achieve accountability through weekly weigh-ins and they get support through weekly meetings. Would it help them lose weight to talk with a thin person who has never been overweight in their lives? Of course not! The power is in the peer team – the opportunity to talk with someone who is or has been in the same situation. A fellow overweight person can offer knowledge, ideas, pitfalls and suggestions on how to succeed at weight loss. Then, they can support each other as they strive to achieve their goals.

Peer team members have an inherent respect for each other because they all share many of the same experiences. It is significantly more valuable to get advice from someone who has lived through the same thing you are experiencing.

Consider joining a peer team for an area of your life where you could benefit from the experiences of others. Discover the benefits of this powerful new experience as you open the door to a unique opportunity to learn and grow.

How EO Forums Made Me a Better Leader

I never attended a business class in my life. My lack of knowledge was hurting me: I was working brutally long hours and I had no idea how to take my company to the next level. Despite all of that, my company was still growing like a weed. Little did I know that joining EO and getting into a Forum would arm me with several practical, yet critical, principles that I could apply to my business.

I learned my first lesson at my first Forum meeting. Like many entrepreneurs, I was busy, arrived late and was fined US$50. A year and several fines later, it dawned on me that arriving on time wasn’t about avoiding the fine. It was about efficient meetings and mutual respect for my Forum members.

With that in mind, I promptly considered my company and how we had plenty of meetings—many of which I scheduled and was constantly late to. What kind of a message was that sending to my employees? I implemented a new rule at the office : Meetings start on time, end on time, required a printed agenda and everyone (including me!) must be on time. Not only was I early to every company meeting, but efficiency, productivity and mutual respect were all on the rise.

Next, I learned the conflict resolution process for Forums. My IT Director was always complaining to me about somebody, and I started to dread seeing him at my door. The next time he complained, I encouraged him to speak to the person he was having issues with and work it out. I had learned this in my Forum. This way he doesn’t have to come to me; instead, the two of them can work things out on their own.

The last lesson—and probably the most important one of all—was adopting Gestalt Language Protocol. Gestalt enables people to speak from personal experience rather than lecture about what “should” be done. When one of my employees came to me with a problem, I was able to draw on my own experience and encourage them to develop their own solutions, rather than just tell them what to do. This was a huge mind shift at my company. Over time, it led people to be independent thinkers and it gave me the freedom and flexibility to spend less time at the office.

Thanks to the lessons I learned in Forum, I finally had time to start working on my business instead of in my business. I spend less than 20 percent of my time at the office, and the company runs better without me. Today, I’m a better boss and entrepreneur!

The 6 Key Factors for Effective Forum Meetings

Forums hold frequent meetings to bring members together. Many factors of the meeting will depend on the type of forum, however, a discussion of options and implications is still useful.

 

Location, location, location – The size of the forum will have a direct impact on your choice of locations. You may be able to meet at someone’s office, in someone’s home, in a private room at a restaurant or at a rented meeting facility. Always be sure you have ample space, comfortable seating and good lighting. Attempt to find a space where interruptions will be minimal, and if confidentiality is important, be sure that complete privacy can be guaranteed. Be sure to provide clear directions to the meeting location and the phone number of who to call if there is a problem.

 

Frequency, length – Both of these factors are largely depending on the type of forum and the objective of the meeting. For example, a professional forum meeting is likely to occur once a month for approximately 4 to 6 hours. An inter-company project team might meet once a week for an hour. An advisory board may meet once a quarter for a full day. Be sure to balance the objectives of the meeting and the size of the group with the frequency and meeting length.

 

Agenda – All meetings should have an agenda, preferably distributed in advance so that everyone knows what to

 

expect. The content of the agenda will vary with the type of forum, however, there are certain common elements that all meetings should include:
  • Welcome, introductions (if appropriate) and agenda review
  • Statement of meeting objectives
  • Meeting content – this is the heart of the meeting; the content will vary
  • Housekeeping for the forum (next meeting date, logistics, etc.)
  • Summary of objectives achieved and action items
  • Closing

 

Leader – Someone should be in charge of leading each meeting. This role may shift among the members of the forum or it may handled by an external facilitator. What’s important is that one person has primary responsibility for running the meeting and everyone has clarity on who that person is. Two important responsibilities of the meeting leader are to stay on track and stay on time. This requires a combination of good leadership skills, good listening skills and a balance of firmness and compassion.

 

Meeting Minutes – Some forums maintain a copy of meeting minutes for future reference. Other forums intentionally avoid keeping meeting minutes due to the confidential nature of the meeting. Forums should decide and communicate the appropriate policy to its members. If your forum needs to keep minutes, refer to www.robertsrules.com, the official website for Robert’s Rules of Order, for standard practices on how to take meeting minutes.

 

Meeting Protocol – Many forums have specific protocols that are followed by all members of the forum. For example, some teams have strict guidelines regarding attendance, tardiness or dress code. Others may have guidelines about food and alcohol consumption during the meeting. If the forum is a subset of a larger organization, the higher organization may dictate the protocols to be upheld. Protocols should be provided to members in writing to avoid confusion, disruption and embarrassment.

 

Taking all of these factors into consideration when planning your meetings will help you conduct more efficient and productive Forum meetings.