In this post, I talk about the first Accountability Group meeting.
First off, it is helpful to keep a running list of people that might be interested in the group. Its like having a backlog of features. That way, you can figure out when you have enough people to start the group.
Having done that, I have some people in mind at any point in time to talk about being an entrepreneur and I have been really surprised and happy about how interested people are. So far, the groups I have been part of are somewhere between “organic”, meaning they just naturally formed, and planned - where we were pretty careful about who was included and how. The most deliberate I have been is in recruiting people from different backgrounds and with different businesses.
That being said, it only works because I genuinely expect to benefit both from feedback and from giving feedback. I’m invested myself in this process. That comes through in the organization so the participants are willing to suspend disbelief and participate.
In a recent group, arguably one of the most successful leaders in the room seemed to get the most out of the meeting. So while it is just a ragtag bunch of people scraping it together, it is also whatever we make it and allow it to be.
It really matters that the people in the room are invested but not actually materially invested. Suggestions, favors, critiques, etc. all come from a place of wanting better for the other participant. We don’t want that pure incentive to get compromised. That’s what makes this different from a board, venture advisor, sales partner, etc.
I schedule the first meeting a month out. Some people plan that far ahead but most people can’t really say they’re booked on a day a month away. In my case, I chose Thursday AM 9-11 AM.
When the group starts, it can be overwhelming for everyone and people may want to try to talk about all of their companies success or problems.
To counteract that, limit scope, and help people to be as comfortable as possible, we started with an agenda that looked like this:
Our initial goal is just to get to know each other and start to understand each other’s very basic business models.
I prepare slides for this and share a week in advance so that everybody can see what I’m going to do. This encouraged others to do the same - and in my experience, people will do it and prepare. That’s part of the beauty of the process. By nature of being a presenter to peers that you only sort of know, you want to make a good impression so you prepare. That preparation itself is part of the point - it forces us to use those muscles.
I would recommend planning a 2 hour meeting, expect people to be 5 minutes late and then divide the time you have evenly among the people that attend. It is really important to have conversation. Sometimes people want to present a few things then have a discussion. Other times the discussion just happens. You may have an issue if someone doesn’t get to participate so you want to manage the time. You might delegate that. There really is a bit of an art to letting people share ideas and keeping the sequence of participants flowing.
By the way, my two goals for February were:
One of the key things about organizing the groups is not to get too hung up on attendance, preparation, etc. Also, even though there may be a key organizer, it is helpful to treat the group more like a team effort. I want everyone to feel like they helped make it happen. If I try to manage the process too much or expect certain things out of it, it makes it harder for others to participate. So I try to quietly make sure that the basic things are happening and then surrender control to the group. You won’t always go where you want or by the most efficient path but it will be an authentic process for the group.
“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.” - Lao Tzu
At the conclusion of the first meeting, you want to set the expectation that the group will meet again in a month. I have had cases where we can plan that out right there. Other times it is better to walk away and choose the framework for the dates (first Thursday of the month) so that it isn’t a whole discussion every time.
Then, between meetings, it is important to periodically give some thought to those other folks and how you can help them. I find that I network to try to make some introductions for some folks. I might stop and give thought to a particular goal or constraint that someone introduced and try to challenge them on it. Sometimes a particularly difficult conversation is best done after the meeting and over the coming weeks before the next meeting.
The main thing that matters is that we invest in each other along the way. We’re not going to solve all of our problems in one shot, but the more we work at this, the more the barriers come down and we’re able to really help each other succeed. Maybe my favorite thing in the world is the feeling that I helped someone succeed. It is extraordinary to be able to do this in a professional context. Especially one that might lead to financial or lifestyle independence for a person that might have otherwise struggled to walk that path.
I hope that these posts about Accountability Groups might inpsire you to do the same and find your own way to bring some people together and collectively help each otehr to achieve more!