I’m a big fan of what’s called peer-to-peer groups. I’ve been a member of several of these groups over the years. Some have worked and have provided me needed feedback. Then there are the ones that I probably would have been better off not participating in.
I think everyone should be involved in a peer-to-peer group. I also think you should get value when you do. Here are some rules you might want to consider:
1. Confidentiality needs to be part of your group. - This is the number one rule. I recently was in a group where confidentiality was broken. I had decided to leave the group before I knew this. If I hadn’t already decided to leave I would have done so after learning of the confidentiality breech. The first and most important thing in a peer-to-peer group is to build trust. The easiest way to lose trust is to have someone in your group who doesn’t know how to keep their mouth shut.
2. You need to meet face to face. - Talking on the phone is OK. You need time to make a meeting work and you need to make sure that you see the entire communication that’s happening. One of the reasons I like organizations like YPO and Vistage is that their peer-to-peer meetings are regular and in person. I find this is often the difference between a group that works and one that doesn’t.
3. You need to meet at least four times a year. - Part of building trust is developing a certain amount of intimacy. You can’t do this when you don’t get together on a regular basis. The least that you should get together is four times per year. If you can’t do this you’ll never get to the point where you trust each other enough to lay all of your “dirty laundry” out in the open.
4. You need to have an agenda. - I’ve been in too many peer-to-peer meetings where there is no agenda and the meeting just wanders. Your time is important to you. If you’re going to spend it in a meeting you need to make sure your time is well spent. Having an agenda helps you not waste time and make sure there is real take home value.
5. You need to make sure that you don’t give or receive unwanted advice. - We all have opinions about what other people should do. I find that groups work the best when advice is given when asked. You have a responsibility to the group to let them know whether you want them to listen or you want their feedback.
6. You need to be honest. - We all have a tendency to want to say nice things to others. If you find that one of your group members is way off base you owe it to them to let them know. If you find the rest of the group thinks you’re wrong, accept it. You need to make sure that you let others know when your opinion is your opinion. I know you might find this hard to believe but you aren’t the arbiter of all things right and wrong.
7. You need to want to hear real feedback. - Part of being a good peer-to-peer member is to take constructive comments in the way they’re meant. When someone says you need to change they really mean you need to change your behavior, not who you are. This is a hard one for many people to learn. You’ll get much more out of your group if you learn it early in the game.
8. You need to give advice only when asked. – In lots of groups I’ve been in the advice starts flowing before the person talking has finished one sentence. First, learn to listen. Second, give advice only when asked. It’s OK for you to ask the person speaking whether they want advice. Getting into an argument with a speaker about what they should do is a poor use of your time and not constructive for them.
9. When giving advice you need to make sure you don’t make it personal. - It’s hard for anyone hearing constructive comments to not personalize it. It’s even harder when you make it personal. If you’re careful to make sure your advice is given in a non-personal way you’ll be heard much more easily. Your goal when giving advice is to have it heard. Do yourself a favor and de-personalize any advice you’re going to give.
10. You have to get take home value from the meetings. - This might be the second most important rule. If you don’t get value you can take home and use then you’re wasting your time. I know that I’ve spent lots of time in peer-to-peer meetings wondering why I was there. If you ask that of yourself a lot, it’s probably time for you to leave.
Peer-to-peer groups are great ways to get inexpensive and quality advice. You’ll need to respect others in your group. It’s part of the deal. What do you think? Are you ready to take the plunge and form or join a peer-to-peer group in your area?
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