In her 10 years as a Forum facilitator and 18 years as a management professor at Simmons College Graduate School of Management, Ann Lindsey has learned three keys to lead lively discussions: listen well, create a respectful environment and respond to participants’ ideas and requests.
“A successful group has a sense of trust and respect,” says Lindsey, head of Lindsey Leadership Consulting in Newton. “People feel safe opening up.”
To maximize peer involvement, Lindsey asks every Forum member to submit a written “check-in” update a few days before the next meeting. Participants read each other’s business updates ahead of their gathering.
“Everyone lists their current goals, what’s impacting their business and any news since last month,” Lindsey explains. “This way, we’re all prepared to discuss what each member is facing.”
For some members, the Forum provides a therapeutic outlet to set aside emotions and think strategically. Lindsey recalls a member, a minority owner of a firm, who repeatedly vented her anger in Forum meetings about her business partner, the majority owner.
“She wanted to be an equal owner, but her business partner wouldn’t agree to that,” Lindsey says. “We helped her step back and manage her reaction by depersonalizing the situation and considering her partner’s perspective. She was so offended that she wasn’t able to empathize with her partner.”
The Forum member successfully overcame her anger and addressed her partner’s reservations about equal ownership. From that point, they reached an agreement.
Some members gain insight simply by articulating their issue to the group. For example, a business owner who accepted one client per industry was choosing between two competitors: a large, enticing company or a small, stable firm.
“The bigger company had the potential for greater income over time,” Lindsey says. “While there were red flags with this company, she didn’t want to see them until she heard from Forum members.”
By expressing her concerns to the group—and collecting peer feedback—she began to formulate a solution. That happens all the time, Lindsey adds.