How to Create a Peer Group

Peer groups are organized around a specific endeavor or vocation. They are a place to talk honestly and confidentially about your experiences in your shared field, and to get honest feedback and moral support.

In my last post, On the Value of Community, I talked about the many concrete benefits members of my peer group have reported. These benefits are a natural outgrowth of a well-functioning peer group. They are not the purpose of the group. Entering in to a peer group with any other purpose than improving one’s self through open and honest exchange is likely to have limited results (IMO).

The following comments are based on the group I belong to, but the principles can be applied to any type of peer group. The principles around which our group functions occurred organically. They are the common principles of any healthy group, as my former colleagues in the addictions counseling field can tell you.

We have few rules in our group.

    Rule #1: Be constructive and respectful.
    Rule #2: No politics.
    Rule #3: What’s said in group, stays in group.
    Rule #4 is unstated, but I have seen this in effect: If you think you may have accidentally stepped on someone’s toes (unavoidable on the internet), get with that person and clear the air immediately.

We have admins, but their role is supportive, not directive. Our group is unstructured. You may find your group functions better with some kind of structure, where everyone reports on their projects and progress and feedback is given. This is a good idea in groups that meet face to face for brief periods, when much must be accomplished in a short amount of time. It all depends on the personality of the group and its needs.

Our home is a private group on Facebook. There are other options. The advantages of an internet group are being able to include members from anywhere in the world and being able to participate from home, as time allows. Discussion threads can be reviewed at a later date. Members spend long and sometimes lonely hours glued to their computers while they are working. Our online venue functions as a lounge where members can take a break when needed.

As a closed group, new members are admitted by invitation only. They are chosen carefully, to keep the group small and personal (Okay, 80 members isn’t exactly small, but we aren’t looking to grow a union of thousands.)

It is critical to vet your members.

As the old knight said in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Choose Wisely.”

Our group was initially formed by Indie authors who simply wanted a safe place to talk about their experiences so we could take our careers to the next level through improved marketing. Some of us are self-supporting, some of us aspire to support ourselves through our writing. Some of us have hybrid Indie/Trad publishing careers. All of us believe in the viability of self-publishing.

For our group, a good candidate is one who is personally known by their sponsor, has a positive and constructive attitude, and has self-published at least one book or is in the process of publishing their first book. A sense of humor is also expected.

It is important that at least one person in the group know a candidate well, and can vouch for their online behavior as well as their commitment to writing. This ensures that trust and comfort levels in the group stay high, and that the person is an appropriate fit for our mix of personalities.

We have a range from new writers and old hands with very different backgrounds. Mutual respect is a guiding mantra, so that everyone can express their opinions freely. We keep the focus on writing, publishing and marketing. When our opinions differ, we each state our own opinions without judging those of others and leave it at that. There is no “right way.” We’ve seen different choices work for different people.

Something I learned when I led therapy groups back in the 90’s: An honest opinion is a rare and beautiful thing, especially when it is one you don’t like. It’s vital to protect your space to make it possible for people to speak freely. It is expected that any negative opinion be expressed in a constructive way, as it is just as important to have an environment where people can hear that which may be uncomfortable to say.

Attacking behavior of any kind is absolutely prohibited. If you choose your members wisely, you may not need to worry about this. In the event you wind up with abusive behavior, you must be prepared to act, first by counseling the perpetrator, then by removing them.

Participation is not mandatory. People who are invited to join may come and go, lurk or post, as they like.

We are not in the business of proselytizing or fixing anyone. Feedback is offered to those who ask for it. Members are free to accept or reject feedback as they like and follow their path without judgement. It is expected that people will assume responsibility for their choices, and if they don’t like the results of their choices, they can make new ones. This is not a stated philosophy in our group, but it is how we have come to function.

People are free to vent their frustrations, but chronic complaining is not encouraged. The group attitude is to find new strategies when something isn’t working. Surrounding yourself with people who have this attitude of personal responsibility is key to a group’s success.

We also believe, as a group, that there is plenty of success for everyone who is willing to work for it. As a group, we want to form the high tide that lifts all our members.

Sound stuffy yet?

It isn’t at all. We act like loons much of the time. It’s a blast. I love my group. I think everyone should have one. And now you can.

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