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Accountability Groups

Introduction

I have found it extremely helpful to seek out and cultivate working peer groups to encourage cross functional learning, accountability and more objective reflection on the course of a business.

In this post, I lay out a bit of history and talk about how I see them working and what I’m doing now to build these in some new spaces.

Backstory: The Small Business Summit

When I started Jemurai, it was actually against the better judgment of a small group of advisors. Well, more like I didn’t do it the way they thought I should. We called ourselves the “Small Business Summit” and we have a Slack community to this day where we bounce ideas.

The small group developed semi organically. I was friends with one of the guys who had a small company, he had a few friends who he went to school with and then worked with who were co-founders of another company, then they in turn had another friend who had his own company, etc. So we had five people who were all experiencing some sort of startup trial. The co-founders were quite successful and had built a SaaS based business. The others of us were doing ok, but had lots of challenges. We had to learn about sales funnels. Or marketing. Or financials.

Amusingly, we had this small group and I think the first “in person” meeting happened because one of the guy’s wives was almost due with their first child and she told him it was a good “last chance” to get out of the house before the mayhem of child rearing started. We met for 5 years after that and I think I can safely say that it was one of the most rewarding and helpful things we all did.

Eventually, we grew to a point where there were complications. Some of our businesses grew fast, others stagnated. We got used to each other’s advice. I could probably guess what any one of those advisors would say about a given issue. “You’re not charging enough.” Or “Why are you writing code?”. We still keep in touch and try to help each other but it has changed.

For me, one of the most valuable things we did was meet each month in what we called our “Accountability” meeting. These became my board meetings. Eventually I was presenting financials. Talking about strategy. Talking about sales processes. Talking about hiring and org structure. Talking about what product to build. The forum to bring all this out with a group that was having similar kinds of experiences was cathartic for Jemurai.

To the extent that we at Jemurai are successful and can have business positive conversations about investment, growth, margins, strategy, etc. it is largely from working those muscles during the accountability groups.

The Idea of the Accountability Group

The fundamental parameters of the group that made it work were something like this:

Obviously, the privacy and integrity of the group depends on a high level of trust. By clearly defining a code of conduct, we can at the very least set expectations. Participants need to guard their own data though - there aren’t general rules that can define how you know when it is ok to share. For example, it is certainly not mandatory to share financials. Though over time when you have trust that can be an important area for feedback!

A simplified code of conduct might be:

  1. What happens in accountability stays in accountability (like we’re under NDA)
  2. We’re constructive. Direct but gentle.
  3. We’re not selling to each other. We’re not hiring each other. We’re not raising money from each other.
  4. We share as we are comfortable
  5. By participating in the group, we are not entitled to material support from the other people
  6. Group process changes should be by consensus (adding people, doing more sessions). If there is no consensus, a group may dissolve and restart as a totally fresh thing.

Ultimately, we need to be able to share freely and really want the feedback we’re going to get. This should all come with no strings attached - just a desire to help the other business owners. This isn’t corporate. Its not a LinkedIn group, not a “CEO Peer Group”, not something that can be commercialized. Ideally, its a grassroots thing that you invest time in both for your own benefit and to help other business owners around you.

Growing the Idea

Building my own business has been one of the most rewarding, but also hardest things I have ever done. I hope that by talking about it and doing more accountability groups, I can both continue to learn and help others who are on this path.

There is no one way to do this. Let me know if you want to talk about the process or participate in one of my groups. I’d love to hear how this has worked for other people.

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