Spark Creativity with Peer Groups

Today’s article is by Amy Gonet, President of The Gonet Group and independent instructional designer. Amy has worked on several projects for Radcom for over the past year, and her professionalism, creativity, and flexibility have been invaluable.

In the article Amy explains the benefits of establishing a peer group.


Keep Creativity Alive – By Amy Gonet

Being an independent instructional designer, especially one who works from home, definitely has its perks. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work in their pajamas on some days (I prefer to call it my “business extremely casual” dress code), have access to a full kitchen for lunch, and be able to get laundry done before the weekend?

But, for every perk there is a challenge. One challenge for me, and many of my instructional designer colleagues, is staying fresh and keeping creativity alive. Whether we work from home or at a client’s office, it can be difficult to avoid the “I am an island” attitude. And, as much as we would like to, it’s not always easy to keep up on the latest training trend or process, or get to that new, chart-topping business book.

Establishing a peer group is one way to overcome this challenge and keep your brain fresh.

Peer group meetings are an informal, mutually beneficial way to share information and ideas with others who do similar work. Comparable to the Mastermind Group concept, introduced by Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich, there is an energy that members bring together. I have several colleagues and friends who are also independent instructional designers and HR professionals, and we meet regularly to discuss trends, share tips we’ve learned, get another opinion on a piece of work, and ask for help when we’re stuck. We play each other’s devil’s advocate, pose thoughtful questions and offer an open ear…because sometimes it only takes saying something aloud to find the answer. And, as a result, we reap the benefits of other viewpoints, opinions and experiences.

As an extrovert who is energized by people, I’m always motivated after my peer group meetings. However, introverts will also find them worthwhile, especially if the meetings are relatively brief (e.g. 1 hour) and you have time to marinate on the discussion afterwards.

If you’re interested in creating a peer group, here are a few things to consider:

  • Select people in the field who have diverse skill sets and personalities. I’m more interested in the process and organization of information and projects. Whereas one of my peer group partners is a more abstract thinker and full of ideas, and another is more analytical and to the point. This makes for valuable feedback from many viewpoints.
  • Generally, a group of 3-5 people is good. This number will keep meetings on point while still allowing for deeper conversation.
  • Consider peers from outside your immediate network. This may give your group other resources should any of you need help or expertise beyond the group.
  • Ensure mutual respect and confidentiality. Everyone in your peer group should be respectful, honest and compassionate, and agree not to divulge the content of your conversations unless stated otherwise. What happens in the peer group meeting, stays in the peer group meeting.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. When a peer shares an issue, strive to understand it, as well as their perspective and what they need from you, before offering advice. Ask insightful, open-ended questions and guide them to discover their own solution.
  • Some say to give each member equal time. I tend to disagree, unless there is a “runaway” member who consistently takes over the meetings! I find that the time is distributed equally at some meetings, while at other meetings one member needs more of our time. It evens out in the end and we all get what we need.
  • Agree to disagree when necessary. You don’t have to agree with everything that your peers offer. Even if you disagree with their differing viewpoint, you will still come away with a better understanding of your issue or idea.

Once you’ve established a group and have a good thing going, you can also take it a step further by sharing your individual professional goals, creating an accountability structure and helping each other stay on track.

It’s up to you and your group to do what works best. Then, take that energy and get back to work!