Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

Running a small or mid-size company can be a lonely endeavor.  So, one of the first questions I ask at the outset of an engagement is whether a company has an active outside advisory board.  No one should face the world alone – and business leaders can all benefit from some support and outside perspective.

Unfortunately, not every company is able to create and manage a formal advisory group.  But that void can be filled by banding together with a peer group of like-minded professionals that help guide one another through the thicket of thorny business challenges. 

How can a peer advisory group provide support?  Here a just a few examples:

Problem Solving.  When I ran a $25 million manufacturing and distribution company, one of my favorite lines was to tell our leadership team that we weren’t special.  Whatever problem we were facing, it was likely that someone else had encountered – and overcome – the same challenge.  The trick was finding how others had solved a similar problem and then adapting that solution for our company.

A peer group is a tremendous resource to accomplish this.  Whatever the issue, chances are that someone has “been there, done that” – or knows someone who has. 

Truth Telling.  As CEO of a mid-size company, I was always a bit leery of my team’s reaction to my ideas.  I was certainly capable of coming up with crummy concepts and unworkable initiatives.  Could I depend on my team to tell this to me?  Or would they just agree with the boss?

A peer group won’t support your harebrained schemes just because you hold the power to set year-end bonuses.  Instead, they are free to provide honest feedback – if for no other reason than their desire that you do the same for them.

Extra Eyes.  We all have blind spots.  As I always told my staff, we are creatures of our own, unique experiences – experiences that influence our judgement without our awareness.  How do we broaden our vision to improve our decisions?

A peer group provides another set of eyes, helping you to see what is in your blind spot. 

Combating Groupthink.  Some of the times I was most troubled was when our entire leadership team was 100% all in on an idea.  Cohesiveness is great, but often a team can exercise too much influence over itself. 

The outside perspective of a peer group can help you overcome groupthink. 

We’re all familiar with the proverb that “experience is the best teacher.”  Tapping into a peer group expands your experience exponentially. You will learn from the collective successes and failures of colleagues.  And perhaps best of all, you’ll be able to “pay it forward” by sharing your experiences to help others.

Marc Alterman is the principal of MA33 Strategies, LLC, a consultancy dedicated to providing strategic planning and general business advice to entrepreneurs and executives.  For help with your company’s overall strategic direction or other management challenges, contact Marc Alterman at