I’ve been a member of many peer-to-peer groups and have organized more than a few customer advisory boards along the way. Some of these have worked incredibly well and some were a total waste of time. There were two things that happened that either made these groups work or not work.
First, there had to be someone who was brave enough to start a tough conversation.
A tough conversation in a peer-to-peer context is usually a story about something they wish they had done differently and would just assume the world doesn’t know about. In the realm of customer advisory boards it has to be someone who’s willing to criticize what the host does. In both instances the person starting this conversation is taking a big risk.
The risk is having others think you’re out of your mind or just being a jerk. In my experience, neither of these things has ever happened, but you might be a little scared or concerned about others seeing the “real you.”
Second, there has to be trust in the room.
If there isn’t a high level of trust and some expectation of what is said in the room stays in the room, no matter how brave people are, they just won’t open up. In the groups that I’ve been in that haven’t worked trust has never existed. I’m one of those people who is glad to air my dirty laundry if the situation is right. I’m not willing to share it if I don’t trust others in the room.
I recently was involved in a peer-to-peer group that fell apart. I believe the reason this group didn’t work is because there was little trust in the group. I wasn’t willing to share my stories because I wasn’t convinced that they would be treated without judgment. When you judge what others say, they aren’t likely to share their secrets. When others accept you for who you are, you are likely to open up.
Knowing what works is the secret to having high quality groups.
If you’re going to start a peer-to-peer group setting guidelines and being clear about group chemistry is what will be the difference between success and failure, at least in the beginning. If you want your group to last for years, there has to be a few other things that exist.
You will want to have a clear understanding of what the group is going and not going to do. Too many times people start participating in a peer-to-peer group with the expectation of either doing business with others in the group or getting referrals. If you have this expectation even from a few people in the group, your group won’t work. If everyone isn’t there to share their experience and learn from others, the group just won’t last for a very long time.
There must be a clear expectation of confidentiality. The group must make it very clear that those who break the bond of confidentiality will be removed from the group. If I can’t trust what I say stays in the group, there is no way my “dirty laundry” is coming out. Without open and honest communication your group won’t have much value.
The purpose of the group’s existence must be really clear. We all have busy lives. If we’re not sure what the group is about and what the group is trying to accomplish you’ll lose interest quickly. That doesn’t mean the group can’t wander off in interesting directions, but if the members don’t get value they’ll stop coming. Each member must understand what value they want and then be responsible for them getting that value.
What about you, do you have a peer-to-peer group you’ve been participating in? If so, how’s it working out?
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