Peer forum: Why and What For?
In September 2015 I published a post on this blog, entitled “Family Regeneration”, in which I mentioned that we were about to open two groups for next generation members in family owned businesses that would meet during the year to discuss and shed light on issues that are unique to them as successor generation members.
Now, one year later, I am happy to say that both groups, facilitated by Tal Yahav, got off the ground. The first group finished its series of sessions and decided to keep the forum going. The second group is still meeting. A third group will be starting out in two weeks’ time. The first “graduates” described the experience:
- It’s a place where you can talk about things you can’t talk about anywhere else. Things that are in my blood.
- It’s place where it’s okay for me to focus on myself and express my personal dilemmas. For example, to take another look at my role in the family.
- Hearing other people’s stories helps you understand that everyone in every family has a story of his own.
- It helped some of us part from our parents, and others to unite with them.
- The possibility of taking a detached look at my personal situation, which it turns out others share, contributes a lot. It helps you develop perspective, patience and forgiveness.
- Hearing how other business work and develop lets me to learn from a business perspective and understand, in advance, what I’ll be up against and what questions I need to ask to make things happen.
- Being part of a group helped me understand what I bring to the family “group”.
- Reality is changing: relationships are better, we’re able to reach agreements.
- As soon as the session ends I’m already looking forward to the next one – it’s a place where I can share my feelings about the family crisis we’re undergoing.
As observers, we could see the initial caution and reticence gradually giving way to openness, give-and-take and friendship: more often than not, the session would simply move to the nearby café to continue unofficially, at the participants’ initiative.
And as if someone had read our minds, we recently came across research carried out in Australia, which examined the influence of a peer forum in family owned businesses on participants (Caspersz, D., & Thomas, J. Developing Positivity in Family Business Leaders. FBR, Feb. 2015). Similar to our groups, each group met once a month for a year, for a session of learning and shedding light on issues that are unique to leaders of family businesses.
The conclusions drawn from the study are that participating in a leaders’ forum contributes to the development of positivity among these leaders to lead and manage. The authors hold that this positive attitude is vital, since it enables the young leader to believe in his/her ability to effectively manage the complex dynamics of a family business, particularly when faced with the chronic absence of appreciation and positive feedback from family members. Positivity encourages the young leader to answer the sense of calling that is typical of leadership of this kind, and to consistently strive to realize this calling, even when faced with long-term challenges. The researchers believe that this positivity also contributes to the sustainability of the family owned business by developing the leader’s effective coping capabilities when facing business challenges as well as the challenges of working with family members, which generates incessant emotional baggage.
When I read the conclusions of the study I found myself nodding in agreement: Tali’s and my attentive, sympathetic follow-up of the personal development of each of the participants, of the cohesion, openness and responsibility that are built in each group, leaves us truly moved. Clearly, beyond the learning topics presented in each session, the very existence of a group that is a “safe place” for each of the participants, where he or she can be heard, listen and learn about themselves and about others, is a powerful thing.
So what is it about this process of group sessions, which makes these wondrous things happen? The researchers name the following advantages:
- The forum is a “place” where participants can be with people “like them”, who are dealing with challenges that are “the same as their challenges”.
- The feedback and advice are authentic thanks to the common understanding of the family’s influence over the leadership and management of the family owned business, and also because the others have also experienced the complex situations that arise when family and business are integrated.
- Participants receive validation from their peers that the responses they have developed to the challenges they face are logical.
- Participants experience positive psychological situations that strengthen their belief in their ability to manage the conflicting needs of the family and the business.
- They develop a leadership concept that allows them to respond to the “soul” of the business, and not only to material/practical aspects.
- The social network and shared relationships foster hope and optimism as to their ability to help both the family and the business.
- “The power of the group”: listening, advice and support.
The Australian study reinforced what we already knew: a peer group is a unique, highly effective tool in the process of preparing the successor generation for leadership of the family business. This tool has no substitute – neither an MBA nor practical experience in or outside the family business. It is a gift that anyone who is preparing to lead the family business (as manager or owner) owes him or herself!
We plan to continue to facilitate peer groups. Our vision includes a next-generation peer community that meets frequently to discuss various topics, and in which members communicate on a regular basis to ask and advise. If you would like to join or refer a family member to us, please call me at +972-(0)54-4234685 or contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Graduates” of earlier groups will be happy to share their personal experiences.