20 rules to help advisors run a smart, successful study group
Study groups can be a great tool. But they can also run your practice into the ground. You must know what you're getting into, the parameters you want to live by and how you're going to be sure to get the best of, not the worst of, a study group.
Generally speaking, when people first begin in a study group, all is hunky-dory. Unfortunately, as time marches on, things will certainly begin to go awry. People you once respected, will soon be providing you with very poor advice. The reality is the quality of the people in the group has not diminished; it’s just that the available flow of new quality information has diminished. In other words, what is new and exciting when you first begin to share is no longer exciting when it is being digested the third and fourth time over. Usually, you will learn a lot in your initial meetings. But a never-ending string of meetings eventually begins to do more damage than good as people reach to try and bring new and exciting discussions to the group.
The question is, how will you keep this from happening to your study group?
First of all, you must understand that every study group has a specific lifetime of relevance. Once the competitive relevance has worn off, the study group goes into a tailspin of declining value. Eventually, the group reaches a point of irrelevance or declining returns. Keep in mind that this should not be confused with the idea that the participants are irrelevant. This is when the study group becomes most dangerous to your future financial health.
I've witnessed many different ways for a study group to go awry, but regardless, this is the point at which it does so. As a warning, there are usually a few members who are emotionally attached and desperate to continue on with an irrelevant study group. They mean well, but try to find numerous ways, ideas and techniques to infuse relevancy where it does not and cannot continue to exist. While this is a valiant effort, it is futile, dangerous, expensive and a significant waste of time and energy.
Once this begins to occur, many of the members realize that the study group is in jeopardy and is unproductive; however, they, too, are hesitant to hurt each other's feelings and reveal or acknowledges the elephant in the room. So in turn, one member after another slowly comes up with excuses, reasons or alibis for not being able to make study group sessions.
A great indication that your study group is slipping into irrelevance is when members begin to suggest new rules such as:
Everyone has to arrive at the next meeting ready to present a new idea.
Everyone must arrive at the next meeting ready to present a case study.
Everyone is responsible to find outside speakers to come address the study group.
Everyone is required to suggest a new product that could be sold by the group.
So the question is, how do you avoid such erosion from taking place within your study group? Or better yet, how do you strategize (in advance) to acknowledge this natural course of evolution so that everyone is emotionally unscarred, continues as friends and will remain a valuable resource for each other for an indefinite period of time?
Simply set up the rules in advance of your very first meeting. (If you are already in a study group that is on the slippery slope toward irrelevance, then initiate these rules ASAP – the other members will love you for it!) 20 rules for a smart and successful study group:
1. Discuss up front the fact that every study group has a lifespan of relevance. Make sure that everyone understands this and realizes that the study group cannot go on indefinitely.
2. Define within your study group that there are only two purposes for the study group:
a.The primary purpose of the group is to share what works and what doesn't within each individual practice, so that everyone reveals (and can learn from) the success factors and pitfalls each have experienced within their own practice.
b. Secondarily, the study group exists to help problem solve for each other so that members are not repeating the same errors that others in the group have already suffered through.
4. Very few study groups will successfully meet more than twice per year. If this sounds too infrequent for you, then I recommend you meet no more than quarterly for the first year and then convert to one or two times per year after that.
5. Once you have visited every office, take six months to a year off from the normal rotation. Do not meet just for the sake of meeting. And especially, do not suggest new rules as I outlined earlier.
6. After a year or so (or after every office has been visited) take time off as I've advised above. Then, once you have decided upon a time to reconvene, allow for members to withdraw without being chastised. For those who wish to continue, you may desire to add new members or continue as is.
7. Start with the end in mind. In other words, once every office has been visited a certain number of times (one to three) the study group should be dismantled. Remember, this is not a marriage. It is more akin to taking a college course. You would not want to keep taking the same classes from the same professors over and over and over again.
8. Make sure that every member is 100 percent comfortable and trusting of the other members. Give each member undeniable and unexplained veto rights over any new members.
9. Create a geographical competitive circumference around each member's practice and do not allow another member from within that same circumference.
10. Everything shared in the study group is always confidential. If you wish, create a good-faith contract or nondisclosure that is signed by the entire group. 11. Never allow a wholesaler to attend your meetings.
12. Do not allow any recruiting within your group.
13. Do not try to turn your study group into a co-op or negotiating tool with outside vendors. This never works and only serves to alienate within the group.
14. Agree not to hire each others' staff.
15. Decide in advance who will serve as the logistical organizer for the group. I suggest using a staff member and not an actual study group member. Another possibility is to have each host be in charge of their meeting (see item three above).
16. Everyone pays their own freight. This is not charity and is not an entitlement program. No pay, no play.
17. Don't make things up. Don't suggest things that aren't fully implemented and 110 percent successful for you. This is not an experimental laboratory, wild goose chase or treasure hunt. Speak only to what you know.
18. Don't sugarcoat things that have gone awry for you, especially if someone else is considering the same. This doesn't mean that what doesn't work for one cannot work for another but be truthful in everything you share.
19. Be honest. Undersell, do not oversell. This is not a sales seminar, it is a study group. Think in terms of the old Ben Franklin T-bar listing of pros and cons.
20. When it's time, it's time. If your study group has run its course, step away, take time off, dismantle it, or at the very least, initiate this set of study group rules.
A well-run, successful study group can be highly valuable to your practice and your future growth. However, there are few things in life more frustrating or dangerous than a study group on a downward spiral. Always make sure you like and trust all others in the group. As I've said, don’t be afraid to address the white elephant in the room. You're all thinking the same thing already.