New Articles
  March 1st, 2024 | Written by

Strength From the Team: How Peer Learning Saves Executives

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="13106399"]

It’s tough carrying the weight of a small to medium-sized business on your shoulders, let alone the weight of a large corporation. Few understand the challenges involved in being a CEO, and even fewer are equipped to help.

Many in leadership positions are tempted to quit thanks to the constant complexities of business in a post-pandemic world, including remote work, tech disruptions, an unpredictable economy, supply chain issues and geopolitical conflicts. In 2022, 70% of high-level executives considered quitting their jobs, and in 2023, more than 1,500 followed through.

The numbers paint a grim picture: America’s business leaders are tired, overwhelmed, and ready to throw in the towel. But it doesn’t have to be this way – for executives in peer learning groups, it’s possible not only to survive but thrive.

The Strength of Each Player is Their Team

11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson once remarked, “the strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

Today, executives often find themselves acting as the source of strength for their business without a team that lends them strength in return. In the face of mounting challenges, they lack the feedback they need to adapt and improve. The executives who are most likely to persevere are the ones who find shared purpose, mentorship, and camaraderie with peers in their same position.

In recent decades, peer learning groups have brought business leaders together from diverse backgrounds and industries. Together, they become a collaborative team, tackling problems, sharing insights, and providing each other with the honest feedback that can be so difficult to obtain from co-workers, board members, and coaches. 

But does it work? To state it modestly, the evidence says “yes”. 

Outcomes of Peer Learning

In a recent survey of more than 2,500 executives conducted by C12 Business Forums, we asked how participation in peer learning groups had affected their business results. Their answers were overwhelmingly positive:

  • 98% reported implementation of best business practices
  • 83% reported improved planning disciplines
  • 94% reported clarity on personal purpose
  • 70% reported gains in profitability
  • 75% reported better work/life balance

So, what is it about peer learning that not only leads to improved business performance, but improved planning, discipline and resilience for executives?

Why Peer Learning Works

Today, up to 39% of executives are involved in some form of executive coaching, which involves consistent meetings with an experienced and trusted mentor. But while executive coaching can provide much needed guidance, it also suffers from drawbacks that peer learning improves on. For instance: 

  • More combined experience – one executive coach may have 50 years of experience – but get 10-15 people together in one room who each have 20 years of experience individually, and you now have 200+ years of collective experience to glean from.
  • More up-to-date experience – a seasoned coach will have evergreen business experience, but that doesn’t mean they will understand AI, remote working, and the other technological complexities of today’s world. In aggregate, a peer learning group will have up-to-date experience in multiple areas where CEOs need guidance.
  • Scope of experience – executive coaching will tend to reflect insights gained from one industry, or a small handful of related industries at best. Peer learning groups bring together executives from businesses across many industries which curb the blind spots and knowledge gaps that come from overspecialization.

Each member in a peer group sees one small piece of a larger picture which the others are likely to miss. During times of rising market complexity, knowledge sharing helps them to adapt more rapidly than executives who rely solely on a coach – or worse, on nobody.

What Makes a Good Peer Learning Group?

The peer learning model is so successful that participants are likely to see their business grow or outperform peers during times of downturn, even when other businesses are losing. Even so, not all peer groups are equal, and some can amount to elaborate networking events that provide less value to participants.

Our survey respondents cited three factors that most contributed to successful peer group participation and longevity:

  1. Camaraderiehalf of CEOs feel lonely in the course of their careers, and of this group, 61% believe it hinders their performance. A good peer group fosters a much-needed sense of camaraderie between participants, arising from shared struggles, outlook and work-life circumstances.
  2. Accountability – executives, like anyone else, are more likely to achieve their goals when they share those goals with others and stay accountable. Meanwhile, holding one’s peers accountable provides motivation for everyone else when they succeed, and valuable lessons when they do not.
  3. Quality of peers – quality of peers has much to do with the criteria for admission to a peer group, including company size and annual revenue requirements. Invitation-only peer groups will also focus on finding participants who share similar values, goals and worldviews.

Surprisingly, effective accountability turned out to be the most predictive factor of a high-value peer group experience. Accountability mechanisms – including frameworks for actionable goals, performance tracking and peer insights – are catalysts for consistent progress that almost guarantee improved business results over time.

Purpose Driven Learning

In today’s purpose economy, executives are not only trying to raise their bottom line, but also to align business operations with their personal values and beliefs. Peers who share the same outlook not only provide a stronger sense of camaraderie – they are also more likely to provide impactful advice and feedback that other group members can feel confident acting on.

Fortunately, executives have many options to choose from. Tracking with the rise of faith-based investing, membership across faith-based peer groups has doubled over the past five years, while membership across all peer groups has increased by 75%.

The Best Time to Join a Peer Group is Now

It’s probably not true to say that there has never been a more difficult time for executives in America – but it’s definitely true that there has never been a better time to join a peer group. By doing so, business leaders can not only find strength for themselves: they can also contribute to the future, make a difference across multiple industries and form a team that makes all of its players stronger.

Author Information:

Mike Sharrow serves as the CEO of C12 Business Forums, the world’s largest peer-learning organization for Christian CEOs, business owners, and executives. Since assuming the role of CEO in 2016, Mike has led C12 to achieve remarkable growth, including more than 220% increase in membership and an impressive 240% increase in Chairs globally. C12 currently serves over 4,100 members spanning the United States, Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Africa.