I am passionate about round tables. I officially retired from the (Sheboygan) chamber a few years ago, where I had started facilitating round tables, and found they kept me in a network with people I really enjoy being with. It’s a premier opportunity for networking and problem-solving.
Testimonials from some have said that for their businesses, it has saved them thousands of dollars. It’s one thing to develop friendships, it’s another thing to have a program that really benefits businesses. What’s powerful about these groups is that people let their guard down because they know they’re in a confidential setting, they know that there is trust amongst their peers. They also realize, “I’m not the only one experiencing this particular challenge.” And because of the trust that’s developed, they feel free to come forward and say, “I can’t handle this challenge any more and I need help.” Most of the time, we’re able to provide that help, and I think that’s why there’s the mood shift from low to high, from the beginning to the end of a round table discussion.
What has been a recurring theme lately is finding staff, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s entry-level staff or experienced, people are having a hard time finding help. Everybody seems to be growing and doing well right now, but not being able to find those people they need is preventing the growth that they know they could experience.
The solid pieces of advice come when people make a suggestion from a position of empathy. They don’t say, “Well, have you tried this?” Or, “Why don’t you try this?” That has a tendency to sound judgmental.
In the peer groups I facilitate, there is a concern with the retiring workforce and how is their knowledge going to be passed on to the next generation. Somebody will say, “We don’t know what we’re going to do because if you talk to baby boomers as a group, they say ‘we’ve been in positions of leadership for x number of years, and now all of a sudden we have these other generations that we have to pass the leadership onto. Their priorities seem to be a little bit different than ours, and in some cases, they don’t necessarily want to adopt our priorities. How are we going to live with that?’” There are some companies that have been holding onto their retiring workforce by bringing them on board every now and then. I’ve often wondered if there’s an opportunity for a gray-haired temp service.
Round tables are also being sponsored or managed by the Green Bay and Fox Cities chambers. These are no cost, and they’re going with the self-facilitated mode.
I believe that having somebody from the outside is very useful, to make sure that the discussion doesn’t get out of hand because you can have some dominant players. If you don’t control that, you’re going to lose the group.
In a peer group, you have to participate to derive the value. If you really want to get something out of a peer-to-peer group, you need to attend on a consistent basis.
I facilitate peer groups for nonprofit executives, for sales pros, safety managers, chief financial officers and controllers, human resources managers and business owners as well as an innovation round table. I use the PeerSpectives program, a trademarked program developed by the Edward Lowe Foundation. If you want to become a facilitator, you go to their training program in southwestern Michigan.
If I wasn’t a facilitator, I’d join a round table — simply because of what I’ve learned.