10 March 2009

For many years I have been a part of a small peer review group that meets up a few times each year to assist each other on a variety of different subjects. I rate the importance of these meetings extremely highly and they have proved to be of immense worth to each of the participants.

So how do they work? I would venture that for a successful group to operate there needs to be a few clear ground rules:

1. Each of the participants is from a seperate region to bring differing viewpoints to the debate and ensure that there is no competition issues.

2. The participants need to be of a similar mindset to enable appropriate open discussion.

3. You need to be prepared to be entirely open about all aspects of the business – from finances to people, systems to service.

4. You agree to rotate meetings with the host dictating the agenda as relates to their company and any specific problems they are facing.

5. You meet 3 or 4 times a year.

Our group has consisted of 4 or 5 agencies with a core of three ever present members. As you would expect there are some changes which occur as people move on but the guiding principles remain unchanged – a desire to learn, assist and support without passing judgement. It is no co-incidence that the members of this group are amongst the very best agencies in the country and have grown at a rate far in excess of the average. Where others have declined and failed we have prospered due in no part to the advice and support that we can call upon from each other to make the most of opportunities that are presented to us.

A visit typically lasts two days – starting at lunchtime, working right through dinner and finishing in the early afternoon the next day. At our early meetings we learnt about the general position of each agency and the issues which they were facing; this is vital background information which assists as we have moved on to helping solve specific problems identified by the host.

The range of topics discussed over the last 5 years is wide and varied and includes staffing; financial control; service offering; diversification plans; strategic direction and succession planning. In visiting an agency I get as much as I would as host. I learn someting new, get a chance to compare important issues and potential solutions, understand the thinking behind decisions and perhaps most importantly come back keen to implement what I have learned.

Our review group is a source of expert consultancy advice, available free as and when needed and perhaps most importantly it is objective, based on experience and cuts straight to the point! No allowances for ego’s or sensitivities made!

Our experience has inspired other such groups to set up, from gender specific to role specific, and it has provided a ready source of help for our staff on any specific issues that they may face. A most useful network to tap into and a real example of collaborative working with no hidden motive.

I would exhort others to follow this example if you are serious about improving yourself and your business. The model can work in any industry and at any level. The most important thing is trust – do you still have the capacity to trust and be trusted?

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