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Are You Ready to Join a Study Group?

Use this checklist to see if this method of sharing ideas with others?and growing your practice?is for you.

By GAMA International

Many top producers believe that joining a study group is the best way to take your practice to the next level. As James Mitchell of LIMRA International notes, in study groups, ?you are constantly getting ideas and seeing things executed at a very high level. It fills in the gaps and helps you expand into areas you might not otherwise consider.? But is a study group right for you? Are you willing to spend the time and money it takes to reap all the advantages you can get from a study group?

Study groups defined
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A study group consists of a number of people in similar positions with comparably sized firms that get together regularly to share best practices and hold each other accountable. Through the power of synergy, study groups create a capacity for growth that is bigger than any one member or firm.

Traditionally, study groups have 10 to 12 members from different geographic areas. Meetings are held annually or semiannually for two-and-a-half to three days and follow a predetermined agenda. They always include a report by each member (which usually highlights the best practices of the member?s firm), a discussion of each firm?s accomplishments and missteps and a sharing of goals and objectives. Some groups also have outside speakers, presentations by the host firm?s management team, research studies or hot-topic discussions.

Benefits of study groups
Study groups can have a phenomenal impact on their members? personal and professional growth. Some advantages are:

  • Professional development: Study group members share best practices on a range of topics. The emphasis is on sharing practical, proven ideas and providing information and resources so that other members can apply these ideas to their own practices.
  • Field management: Through in-depth presentations at hosting firms, study group members learn very specifically how each member?s organization is structured and operates. These presentations provide quality ideas about creating profitable, effective business models.
  • A personal board of directors: Members serve as a board of directors for each other, providing insight and advice on a range of topics. This instant sounding board offers a wealth of collective wisdom and experience that members can draw from in making decisions.
  • Personal development: Members support each other in personal goals and aspirations and provide counsel that focuses on personal growth.
  • Motivation and support: A study group provides a close-knit group of people who understand what it?s like to walk in the other person?s shoes and who can provide support and motivation.
  • Industry big picture: A study group provides exposure to 10 or 12 different firms outside a member?s company and geographic region, offering new philosophies and ways of doing business.

Types of study groups
Study groups may consist of members who are all from one company or from different organizations. Company-specific groups provide a chance for members to focus on executing initiatives specific to their company goals. Targeted skill building is easier to accomplish in these groups, and these groups may gel more quickly than others since members share common practices and operate under the same business culture. However, they can easily fall into a pattern in which more time is spent critiquing company and industry efforts than on sharing best practices. On the other hand, intercompany groups provide access to a wider range of ideas and systems and can help open up members to a broader array of practices.

Making a commitment
As mentioned earlier, study groups provide tremendous benefits to members. But they are not without a price, both in the expenses associated with participation and in the time required to prepare for and attend meetings. To be effective, members must be committed to their company’s growth and be willing to share their practices, goals and aspirations freely. Members must be ready to commit approximately $2,000 a year to fund travel and related expenses for meetings and must be able to dedicate three meeting days, as well as 10 to 12 hours before each meeting, to create a presentation. Members should also be prepared to invest at least three years in helping their group become established.

The following is a checklist of some of the requirements you need to consider before creating or joining a study group. Make sure you can commit to all them before moving forward.

Are You Ready to Join a Study Group?

Complete this checklist to see if you are willing to make the investment that being a successful study group member requires. If you can’t check off all of the boxes, a study group may not be right for you at this time.

  • Financial: Are you ready to commit approximately $2,000 a year to fund the costs associated with group activities? Do you understand that even if you can’t make the meeting, you will be required to pay your share of the group costs?

  • Growth: Are you committed to growing your company? Are you willing to share best practices and provide your group members with tangible ideas that have fueled your agency’s growth? Are you willing to learn from others’ experiences and apply those to your personal and professional development?

  • Being present: Will you commit three days per year to attend meetings? Are you capable of “being present” during the meetings, able to turn off your cell phone and your need to check email constantly so that you can focus on the information being shared and your fellow group members? Is your agency able to manage effectively without you during this time?

  • Preparation: Are you willing to dedicate 10 to 12 hours to create a presentation that is meaningful and transferable for your group members? Are you willing to package materials in a format that is accessible and easy to use for other members?

  • Openness: Are you willing to share openly and honestly your personal successes and failures, as well as your firm’s? Will you keep conversations and materials shared during meetings confidential? Can you park your ego at the door and participate in a spirit of fellowship?

  • Responsibility: Does your spouse or significant other understand your commitment to your group? If you are in a group that invites spouses to join them, do you have children who are old enough to be left at home alone, or can you easily make child-care arrangements?

  • Commitment: Will you invest at least three years in the process to allow your group time to evolve and coalesce? Lifelong friendships and irreplaceable bonds have been formed, and careers and firms transformed as a result of study groups, but this did not happen overnight.

  • Communication: Are you committed to staying in touch with your group members throughout the year? Will you respond quickly to requests for information and provide insight as needed?

This is an excerpt of a longer article that appeared in the GAMA International Journal. Copyright 2006 by GAMA International. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

For information on how to start a study group, contact GAMA at jmason@gama.naifa.org or call 703-770-8173.

 


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