CEO PEER SUPPORT GROUPS
“Forget about unproductive competition and start sharing your expertise!” This was the message to CEO’s from a conversation with Sallie Saunders, from the Nonprofit Governance & Management Centre and Irena Liddell and Ruth Robins, from Northern Sydney Regional Forum CEO Peer Support Group
What is a CEO peer support group?
A CEO peer support group consists of a small group of CEOs (or managers, co-ordinators, team leaders, executive officers etc) who meet regularly in a confidential, supportive environment, often under the direction of a nominated facilitator. Meetings have a structure, an agreed purpose and members usually commit to a serious level of confidentiality
What a CEO peer support group is NOT
Peer support group meetings are not informal ‘chat sessions’ or social gatherings or business networks or recruiting sessions. They should not generate extra work for members and they should not be so ‘comfortable’ that important opportunities for learning are missed or avoided. It has been found that many CEOs find that a peer group doubles as a learning session and therapy. They collect ideas and tools to manage professional challenges, but also gain emotional support and the resolve to address personal issues.
What makes a successful CEO peer support group?
The most successful peer groups generally:
Include people with varied expertise and some similarities. Productive groups include members who have a recognised connection with one another. For example, all women CEOs, groups of CEOs from a particular sector, CEOs from organisations with a similar number of employees, or from different sized organisations in one geographic area.
Stay small. Four to ten people is an ideal size for a peer support group.
Stress confidentiality. Peer support groups need to be as open a forum as possible so confidentiality must be taken very seriously. Make the expectations about confidentiality explicit and reinforce them at each meeting.
Expect accountability of members. An effective peer support group places a premium on relationship building and accountability – and that is impossible when people are coming and going every month. Be serious about punctuality, attendance and reporting back on your decisions and actions.
Keep to a consistent format and structure each meeting. Most peer groups meet monthly in the same location for 2 – 3 hours. Some have ‘breakfast meetings’ and some meet in the evenings to minimize time away from the office.
Have good facilitators. A facilitator’s job is to ensure that the meeting follows the agreed structure and processes and enables everyone to participate as desired. One group annually elects a chairperson who helps set agendas and facilitates its monthly meetings to ensure that the group stays on task. Another group decided to hire an outside facilitator for the first six months until group members were confident about rotating this task amongst themselves.
Develop a questioning culture. In most peer support groups, questions dominate the discussion. Thoughtful inquiries lead individuals to rethink their assumptions and examine issues with fresh eyes.
Remember the importance of group processes. In the ‘forming’ stage the new group needs to establish general guidelines for the group’s conduct, such as: Where and when the group will meet? How the group will be facilitated? How will the meeting be structured? How will meeting tasks be divided? How the group will ensure that each person is heard? What is the policy in regard to absent members? How to contact each other outside the meetings? What focus the group will adopt for the next meeting?
Evaluate to ensure time well spent
Busy CEOs often question whether they can find the time to attend monthly peer support meetings. Regular evaluation assists with answering this dilemma.
Sallie Saunders says that “A peer support group produces greater benefits if you’re humble and eager to learn. That means showing up at meetings ready to receive knowledge and share your experiences about managing in the complex nonprofit environment. Individuals who lack the patience to listen, think they have all the answers or judge too quickly will derive less value from their peers’ comments. It really helps if you have a capacity to enjoy yourself and value the time spent in personal renewal”.