A few years ago, I joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a worldwide NGO for high-impact business leaders with over 11,000 members in 40+ countries.
EO’s mission is to engage entrepreneurs to learn and grow. EO organizes for its members extraordinary executive education sessions at renowned institutions such as LBS, MIT, and Wharton; but the main learning platform within the organization is the “forum”.
The forum is a peer-to-peer learning and coaching experience where 6-8 business owners meet every month in a secure, confidential environment to share updates, challenges, problems, and experience related both to their business and personal life. Whenever someone has a big issue, a formal presentation is performed and the forum members give feedback by sharing similar experiences. If every member has an average of 15 years’ experience, the forum offers every participant the power of over 100 years of knowledge.
EO is not the only organization that uses a forum. The Young Presidents Organization (YPO), Vistage, and others have similar products and are always the most highly rated benefit for their members. The problem is that every one of those organizations is targeted specifically for CEOs or CxOs at best, there’s nothing similar for middle-management.
My EO forum and the EO-designed executive education gave me an extraordinary thrust to improve my management skills and grow as a business leader. The value is so high, it’s really difficult to assess.
One of our core values is to Build the Best Team, which includes our commitment to create a collaborative environment where everyone at Intraway can flourish and grow. This fantastic opportunity to learn and progress in business and in life has been available for many years only to key executives, and that was not fair to the rest of the team. So we took the best practices from the forum system and launched an internal Peer-to-peer coaching and learning pilot program for managers and key players. As far as we know it’s an unprecedented initiative. It has some challenges, but here’s how we implemented the program.
About the Forum Members
For this pilot, we invited about a third of the company, including all the executives, leaders, and key players. We created 6 forums, with 9-10 people each. We strove for diversity, mixing both areas and seniority, from senior managers to non-leading key players.
Rules of Engagement
- Forum Objectives: The objective is clear: help associates learn and grow as professionals.
- Facilitators: We hired experienced coaches from an established career development consulting company.
- Basic Forum Agenda: Each month the forum will meet for three hours. The first hour will be used for updates and deciding which issues should become formal presentations. The second hour will be used for a previously prepared member presentation as well as an urgent presentation. The third hour will be used specifically for learning, either discussing book chapters selected and read by the forum or for a presentation for a theme a member has specifically prepared either by studying the topic or because s/he is a subject-matter expert. The agenda should also include a one-word open, an icebreaker and a one-word close. Members are encouraged, but not required, to continue the forum informally either having lunch or dinner together.
- Forum Bylaws: Each forum is responsible for creating its own bylaws, but after a few sessions we will encourage all groups to introduce two common rules: punctuality and annual attendance should be strict. One way to implement this policy is through credits. Each member starts with 4 credits. From 1 to 20 minutes late, the member is penalized with the deduction of 1 credit. More than 20 minutes late or missing the meeting deducts 2 points. Members who reach zero points must leave the program. The forum can anonymously vote to issue up to 4 additional total credits per year to its members (4 max per forum per year, not per member). The credit will be given to the penalized member if 80% of the anonymous votes are positive.
- Confidentiality: What’s said in the forum stays in the forum. Neither members nor facilitators can comment about anything to any outsiders, not even outside of the company. The only exception is if the whole forum believes a particular issue should be escalated to the C level of the company and everybody agrees to share. In this case, the forum will choose how to present the matter.
- Not Mandatory: For the forums to work, members must be fully committed. We asked each member to participate in the first few meetings, but after that, they can choose to continue participating or leave the program.
- Retreats: Forums are encouraged to have an offsite retreat once per year. The company will provide a specific budget for each forum, but the forum is responsible for all logistics and any extra budget required.
We have just started and we foresee a lot of challenges. The first challenge is to establish trust within the forum in order to create a secure environment for everybody to share their most meaningful issues. The second is to make meetings relevant as soon as possible to engage as many members as possible and avoid members quitting.
Facilitators are preparing specific exercises and will be focusing on these challenges during the first few meetings. We’ll probably need to adjust many things, but this is how innovation works!
Benefits and Conclusion
We believe the Managers Forum initiative will provide impressive benefits, both for our team as well as for the company itself.
Our associates will learn from each other, from experience facilitators, from external speakers and from studying company-relevant books and business cases.
For the company, in our journey to create 2,000 leaders for 2025, we aim to engage our people to grow, reduce company silos, create bonding between peers, reduce attrition and build a real environment where everybody can learn, grow and thrive!
We will adjust the initiative as necessary and extend it to moew and more team members as we fine-tune and feel increasingly comfortable with the program.
What do you think? Do you have any idea to improve the program?