Create Your Own New Girls’ Network: Ten Tips for a Peer Advisory Group
Content provided by the Women Presidents' Organization
by Marsha Firestone, Ph.D.
President and Founder, Women Presidents’ Organization
50 Word Teaser: An effective peer advisory group brings together non-competitive peers from a variety of industries that confidentially examines significant business challenges. The benefit is that entrepreneurs in peer group learning enjoy cross-fertilization and idea generation. The following article provides ten tips for organizing and running such a peer advisory group.
Learning can take many forms; however, the most successful way adults learn is from one another. Adult learning theory tells us that adults prefer to define what and when to learn. I call it "just-in-time learning." This kind of learning strengthens the skills and knowledge that the learner perceives as important.
Research by the Edward Lowe Foundation (www.edwardlowe.org), an organization that helps entrepreneurs navigate second-stage growth through retreats and online forums, indicates that entrepreneurs learn faster and better when they learn from one another.
How does the peer advisory process work?
A peer-to-peer advisory group should bring together non-competitive peers from a variety of industries to confidentially examine significant business challenges. The result is that entrepreneurs in peer group learning enjoy the benefits of sharing ideas and experience. The following are ten tips for organizing and running such a peer advisory group:
1. Members must commit their time and participation.
Participants must be willing to attend all meetings and be active in the group process. The success of the group is dependent on the commitment of its members. Without an active attitude and a strong foundation, the group will experience a failure to thrive.
2. Members must take responsibility for their own decision-making.
Each member decides for herself what her next steps will be. No one but the individual actually implementing the decision can take responsibility for the outcome. Peers who are part of this decision-making process must be adult enough to say, "Okay, I am willing to change my ways."
3. Every member of the group must be protected in the role she offers to the other participants.
Negativity and criticism of the ideas of others is unacceptable and counterproductive to the learning process. The opportunity to come out of a peer group experience with the best new ideas is only possible when the group leadership ensures that no one will be criticized or treated in an unprofessional manner.
4. The primary goal is to bring the genius out of the group.
Collaborative learning is designed to draw out the insight and wisdom of the individual. The resulting mix of ideas and knowledge crates a collective "genius" for the benefit of the whole and each participant.
5. A willingness to be open and honest is essential to the process.
The effectiveness of the group is entirely dependent on the participants’ willingness to share. Only when people are open about discussing their insecurities, finances, personal problems and other sensitive issues will the group benefit the most. Openness and honesty have been shown to provide the most conducive atmosphere for learning.
6. Participants must sign a written document agreeing to absolute confidentiality.
The document must define the rules governing participant disclosure. Confidentiality is the foundation of the openness and honesty discussed in above; one cannot exist without the presence of the other.
7. There must be consequences for breaking the group code of confidentiality.
If someone fails to honor the code, the group should have a process in place for dealing with the exception, which can include expulsion. All members must understand the consequences before participating.
8. Each person must make a commitment to action between the group meetings.
One very important part of the peer advisory process is that each person must make a personal commitment to what her actions will be during the intervening time between group meetings. At the end of each meeting, participants make their verbal commitments, and at the beginning of the next meeting, each explains what steps she took to live up to her commitments.
9. The most effective learning experiences come about as a result of relationships forged within a bonded group.
Bonding is the strongest when members have respect for each other and have the patience and understanding to really listen. A feeling of closeness and identity with one another are hallmarks of the most effective peer advisory groups.
10. Having fun together should be part of the peer advisory process.
Having fun together could mean a celebration, going out to dinner or just sharing a story and a good laugh. Shared memories of good times will foster the bonding discussed in #9 above.
Members of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), which serves entrepreneurial women who have already achieved a certain level of success, identify the following as some of the benefits they have achieved through the structured WPO peer-to-peer advisory process:
• Increased revenues
• New business strategies
• Employee counseling advice and guidance
• Group support
• New business information
• Decreased isolation
• Decreased company costs
• Business development with other WPO members
• Returning to the work environment reenergized and revitalized
Members of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups can work together to create business opportunities, developing strategic alliances and promoting members’ personal growth as well as strategies for growing their businesses. Recently the president of BrightStar Healthcare a WPO member, sold her first franchise to the daughter of another WPO member. This business sale is an excellent example of the connections made through peer advising and the impact on women and their businesses.
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