Years ago, I faced a thorny work issue involving a client, and I needed advice. So, I sought the counsel of two other CEOs leading similar organizations. At first, I asked their opinion separately; they both had good questions for me and pushed my thinking. They also had questions of their own—some of which I could help with, but others lay outside my bailiwick. I quickly realized that if the two of them could interact, I could get even better advice for my problem, and knowing their strengths, they could help each other with the problems they were facing as well.
I realized a tremendous opportunity was at hand, so I pulled together a peer group with all three of us talking through our problems as a group. I had experienced the power of one-on-one coaching over the years, but for this particular challenge, I found this group approach so much more helpful because we were able to interact, design, and test solutions together, in real time. Further, in hearing the solutions develop for my peers’ problems, I also learned new ideas and beneficial approaches for myself; in other words, they helped me solve problems I didn’t realize I had and helped me build my own capacity.
So many times when we think about coaching, we limit ourselves to the idea of one-on- one coaching. I’m a firm believer in the power of a one-on-one scenario, but I also believe in the value of group and peer coaching as well.
Since that first group in 2011, I have convened many group coaching circles and refined a simple process for doing it—and even codified this process in my 2016 book, Small But Mighty™ a guide for starting and growing nonprofit consultancies. Many, many group coaching models exist out there and even more names for the practice, including mastermind groups, peer learning communities, etc. I called mine the Council of Superheroes. I’ve found over the years that a Council offers a powerful tool for finding solutions, especially to markedly difficult problems. Again, they’re simple to pull together, and it continues to surprise me that they’re not done more often.
At the heart of the Council of Superheroes, 3 tenants remain paramount:
- It’s a collaboration of peers – So, it’s not a mentoring relationship but people at a similar level—equals, in fact, who exchange ideas and solutions. This equality allows participants to build honesty and camaraderie quickly since there isn’t assumed roles (like teacher and learner or Master and Padawan)
- The peers complement each other – In the same way that superheroes have different strengths and thus make the group stronger than any one of their parts, your Council should have members with certain abilities that differentiate themselves. These differences can lie in competencies and skills (such as an adept leader in fundraising) or in geography (if you’re on the East Coast, try to get someone on the West Coast). The unique advantage of the Council of Superheroes gives you the ability to tap into multiple minds and perspectives at once—and to accelerate learning, commit yourselves to a formal process.
- It’s time-limited – As much as I’d love to say that the Council of Superheroes should connect every week or every month, I’ve found that nonprofit leaders have so many demands on their time that it’s difficult to commit “forever.” I’ve found that after a few weeks, despite the best intentions, conflicts begin to arise, and before you know it, the Council is defunct. Instead, I recommend having everyone commit to a set period of time and when done, so is the Council.
Creating and running a Council is relatively easy; here’s how:
Step 1: Create the Council – Start with four to five peers who commit to the series of meetings. Make sure each member is complementary in schools, capacity, mission, geography, or other variables.
Step 2: Set the schedule – Schedule each meeting ahead of time. There should be one introductory meeting to talk about each person’s background and then one meeting for each member to focus on the problem they’re facing. So, if you have four members, you set five meetings ahead of time. If you have five members, six meetings are needed. Again, set the time for each up front and give yourself three to five weeks between each session to keep the timing realistic and ensure availability for everyone.
Step 3: Hold the meetings – Keep each session to an hour and always have one member assigned the job of holding the group accountable. The first meeting will just provide time for each member to introduce themselves and their problem. At each subsequent meeting, focus on only one Council member. In the first 30 minutes, this superhero of the week presents a challenge or question for the group to solve. In the next 25 minutes, the Council provides advice. In the last five minutes, the week’s superhero again takes the floor so she can make commitments to change or take action based on feedback.
Again, always have one superhero designated to keep track of time and enforce it. If not, the meeting will run way too long or, worse yet, get cut off before the superhero of the week can get advice.
That’s it … your first Council is in the bag!
If the group wants to meet again, I suggest taking at least a month off, if not two. This will help prevent meeting fatigue and the eventual implosion of the Council.
So, get out there and get help. You’re not alone, and when you get help from your superheroes, you’ll also get the benefit of knowing you’re helping them, too.
Please feel free to reach out to talk about this post or any other on The Mighty Blog, I look forward to hearing from you!