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Your Move — The Power of Peer Learning

“Your Move — The Power of Peer Learning”

A CEO roundtable helps you work on your business.

Bruce Corson and Bruce PetersBruce Corson
Bruce Peters

Although the concept of peer learning is exploding in the academic world, it’s sadly underutilized in business circles.

Some CEOs are intrigued with the idea of joining a peer group, but hesitate to show up until they solve the problem they need help with. Yet once CEOs are exposed to peer learning, they’re never the same.

Group-dynamic experts may say it takes several months for a group to bond and build the kind of trust needed for dramatic results. We disagree. With a trained facilitator, it can happen in as little as 45 minutes. Example: After attending his first roundtable session, one executive went back to his office and fired an employee — something he’d wanted to do for years. By sharing his problems with fellow entrepreneurs — even though they were strangers and came from different industries — he gained the confidence to take action. (A facilitator is a key to successful peer learning. This person should not be a member of the group that he or she is leading; otherwise, they may have an agenda and try to move the discussion in a particular direction.)

A few reasons why peer learning works so well:

  • Synergy. When you get together with peers, someone is bound to be strong in an area where you’re weak or had experiences you haven’t, which enables you to leverage talents and backgrounds.
  • Connecting the dots. One of your peers may say something you’ve heard before, but when presented in a different context, the idea suddenly makes sense.
  • Built-in accountability. After disclosing a problem, you know that someone may ask about your follow- up at a later date. And that naturally increases your chances for taking action.
  • Challenging assumptions. Peer groups can point out when you’re in denial.

Indeed, solving a problem begins with naming the problem. That sounds simple, but there’s a catch: The first problem you name isn’t always the real problem. In one roundtable session, a CEO asked her peers for advice on opening a branch office. Instead of giving marketing advice or tips on real estate, the group asked: Why do you want to open this office? Are you really capable of doing it?

Initially, the entrepreneur was as mad a hornet, but she soon realized that her reasons for expansion were linked to ego rather than strategy. She decided to wait — a fortunate decision because her industry collapsed soon afterward.

CEOs often say they don’t have time to join a peer group. They mistakenly believe that if their hands aren’t on the tiller, the boat isn’t going anywhere. What’s more, they view attending a peer meeting as recreational. The truth is that you’re working more efficiently on your business when you’re with a peer group than when you’re at the office working in your business.

Writers: Bruce Corson and Bruce Peters are co-founders of Peer HQ, a nonprofit company in Rochester, N.Y., which promotes peer learning in businesses. Corson and Peters also serve as group chairmen for TEC (The Executive Committee), an international organization of CEOs.thebruces@peerhq.com