Your professional launch is shaped by academic credentials, innate talents, and available job opportunities. Over time, experience and reputation kicks in.
Then (this is far too often overlooked), your success is influenced by whom you know and who knows you.
Thoughtfully cultivating a peer circle can present you with a long-term, self-perpetuating career asset. It is an 80/20 decision – to purposely choose your peer group rather than merely fall in with co-workers – and it’s one that can drastically change the quality of your professional life.
In a French review of peer group influence on professional development, doctors enrolled in diverse peer groups averaged eight meetings per year. The results were that 98 percent of the doctors surveyed said their memberships resulted in a higher quality of patient care and 75 percent credited changes in their practice to peer group activities.
Peer groups intentionally provide three benefits: Learning (expanding resources and offering key insights), encouragement (supplying validation and support), and accountability (to help members keep on track).
Peer group proponents often refer to the need to create a “circle of trust” to provide feedback and guidance for the rejoining of soul and role. It is an experiential membership which taps into intellectual and emotional growth as well as advanced professional strategies.
What does a peer group do? Whatever it was invented to do.
Some function like advisory boards, with each member taking turns to present a challenge or goal. After review, an action plan is agreed upon and progress toward a goal is then tracked over the course of a specific time period.
Other groups empower members to help shepherd career growth, holding members responsible for helping make inroads or introductions for other members. In this way, circles of influence are greatly expanded, and speaking opportunities, for example, are often passed around.
Some groups bring common mentors aboard to help develop individual goals. I know of one group in Madison, Wisconsin — “The Four Divas”—which was formed to encourage personal as well as professional growth. Members agree to group “stretching” challenges such as attending art gallery openings and university lectures. They also take monthly online quizzes and then have the group predict their answers, to see how closely their personal lives and professional brands blend.
There are many variations of a formal peer group. The most successful and long lasting usually formalize their purpose and goal setting strategies. One peer quadrant meets bi-weekly for the purpose of career enjoyment, development and advancement. Each member has a role to play so that no one burns out, and all share a responsibility to the group for confidentiality and contribution to goals. The Moderator sets the meeting agendas and keeps the group progressing on time and on agenda. The Task Master gives clear responsibilities to be achieved before the next meeting and also records individual and group progress toward meeting goals. The Organizer is responsible for venue, refreshments and meeting materials/equipment. Finally, the Communications Officer makes notes as desired by the group and handles group correspondence with outside resources. There are 24 hard-scheduled bi-weekly meetings per year, allowing for 2 cancelled meetings due to summer or holiday conflicts.
The composition of the group means everything, and you want to give great care to bringing together a cohesive group that shares professional values. Only include people whom you could honestly recommend in the future, as usually that becomes an expectation of the group, and invite people who value constructive critique rather than resent it.
Formulating a peer group takes commitment and vision, but few other professional activities return more in growth dividends.