On Your Business: Let’s Get Together

Whether you’re feeling lonely at the top or alone on an island, it is difficult to learn, grow, and tackle challenges without an outlet for support, ideas, and guidance. Not having peers or avenues to discuss challenges, share ideas, ask questions, celebrate wins, or vent about frustrations can be very isolating—and make it difficult to learn, grow, and be validated. Whatever the role, there is great value in finding and connecting with others who are in a similar position or situation and have relevant experiences to share.

While those in larger organizations are more likely to be part of a team or have co-workers who serve in the same role to provide regular opportunities for engagement and collaboration, those in small businesses may be the only person in a particular position making it a real challenge to find colleagues to be their sounding board, support system, or collaborator. Thus, depending on the person or circumstance, it can be very important to be connected to others who serve in similar capacities, share common experiences, and are easily relatable. Further, having access to insight, perspectives, and guidance from peers in different organizations or industries can be an even greater advantage, due to their ability to overcome blind spots and offer an unbiased and unaffiliated standpoint.

Degrees of Commitment

Peer groups come in many forms and degrees of commitment. There are informal meetups, online communities, unpaid and paid masterminds, and professional organizations that provide varying degrees of support and structure. Industry associations go beyond peer-to-peer engagement by offering opportunities to contribute to the betterment of a specific field of business. Organizations that serve a particular trade commonly offer additional benefits, such as opportunities to learn through formal and informal training, means to stay on top of industry-related trends, forums to address hot-button issues, and opportunities for thought leadership through committees, councils, special interest groups, and board member participation.

Casual groups come with fewer rules, structure, cost, and investment—and thus can be formed, utilized, and provide benefits with limited effort or involvement. The tradeoff of causal groups is the caliber of members, quality of participation, value of information, and depth of discussion stemming from an uncertain level of trust and confidentiality. Plus, many informal groups have low or no requirements to join. While they can be initially attractive, groups without monetary, time, or credential requirements historically have a lower level of commitment, engagement, and reward.

Exclusive groups and formal organizations that have higher thresholds for membership—whether financial, participatory, or qualifications—have greater potential and provide more substantial yield on investment as a result of the involvement level of the participants. Because the stakes are higher for admission, members are committed to providing and receiving greater value.

When contemplating whether to join a peer group or organization, it is important to consider the following:

  • What is your motivation for participation?
  • What are the specific needs or pain points you are seeking to address through this group?
  • Who are the other members of this group, and are their knowledge, interest, and commitment levels consistent with or greater than yours?
  • What expectations do others in the group have of you?
  • Are you willing to commit to the anticipated time, cost, and participation required to satisfy membership and get results?
  • How long will it take for you to see a return on your investment in the group or organization?

The Choice Is Yours

There are peer groups and organizations for all professions and trades including project management, administration, engineering, software development, sales, marketing, leadership, operations, and business ownership. Although some are focused on specific industries or locations, many span across all types of businesses or trades. Finding and joining these groups can be as easy as being invited or referred by an existing member, visiting the website of the organization, or connecting through one of the popular online platforms, such as Discord, Reddit, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

Like any significant decision, joining peer groups and organizations comes down to weighing the pros and cons of each option. On one hand, belonging to smaller, informal groups or niche industry associations offers more specificity, catered content, and a better understanding of the challenges faced. The downsides are the limited perspectives and the potential of receiving less insight and support due to the level of participation and potential competitive restrictions. Broader, more expansive professional organizations offer a larger pool of participants, more extensive knowledge base, diverse experiences, and (perhaps most importantly) deeper relationships, because of the level of support that can be provided with fewer concerns of conflicts of interest.

Regardless of the specifics, involvement in peer groups and organizations provides unique and invaluable opportunities for career growth, professional development, problem solving, and expansion of your personal network and support system. Since time is life’s most precious commodity, it is crucial to understand what options are available, assess the benefits and drawbacks, pursue the best fit, and be prepared to go all in. The general rule of thumb is that you get back in return what you contribute.

Depending on the person or situation, the greatest benefit gained from involvement in peer groups and organizations may be realized by experimenting with a mix of types, formats, sizes, commitment levels, and areas of focus. While doing so, keep in mind that it is not only valuable to network, learn, and grow from others who are in your industry and understand your business, but the insight of uninhibited outsiders can be equally if not more valuable.