Ten years ago I started a project in partnership with 2 other businesses and 3 non-profit trade associations to form a Regional CEO Roundtable program in the local area. Today this program serves 5 groups of CEO’s and approximately 60 CEO’s that meet monthly to share ideas and experiences with the other members. The value of this program comes from the relationships and understanding of a diverse set of opinions. I belong to all 5 of these groups and I find them to be extremely valuable to my business. There is no doubt in my mind that diversity creates organizational strength and these groups create a level of diversity that simply is impossible in a single business.
We are now preparing to take this concept to the Creative Design area of our business by building a local Designer’s Roundtable. This will be a group of intermediate to advanced designers that we can exchange ideas with in a confidential peer to peer network. Our goal is to put together 10-12 designers that can meet monthly in a confidential group and share best practices. Having done this with the CEO Roundtables many times I know that getting to the trust level takes time to build. In new CEO Roundtables I have found that trust relationships takes 12-18 months before people become comfortable with the group and the discussion becomes more honest and direct. What happens is in the early meetings everything is good and they only talk about the things that worked well but as the group matures the failures start to be debated and the real relationships in the group start to form.
I have been a business owner since 1988 and I was first introduced to the Roundtable concept in Milwaukee where the program was part of the regional chamber of commerce. When I first moved to the California Central Coast in 1996 the first thing I did was join the Chamber and ask how to sign up for the CEO Roundtable. The silence to that question was deafening and it would take almost a decade to fix that.
Roundtables are not the product of a person or even a company. They are a product of a business community and that requires partnerships be built. In our case the partnerships that had to be created included a couple of leading business. In our case the commercial part of the partnership came from a HR Services Company, Your People Professionals, and a CPA firm, Barbich Longcrier Hooper and King. This had to be partnered with business organizations that included Softec (Technology Trade Association), the EVC (County Economic Development Group), and the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce. With that partnership it was finally possible to pull together the first 3 groups and stand the program up in the community.
These groups have matured over the year with many strong relationships being developed between different members. I have seen these relationships create value for members many times and the value is typically an understanding of the diverse perspectives that members are exposed to. There have also been cases of members doing business with each other although that is typically kept outside the roundtables.
In a small business we often become consumed by our own little world and we fail to understand the bigger world view. The roundtables can help moderate that challenge and stop ideas from being isolated in a single business.