Lean on Me – How Coaching and Peer Groups Help Primary Producers Break Through Ceilings

You don’t have to do it alone. A simple lesson that many entrepreneurs don’t learn quickly enough to move their business forward. When it comes to primary producer agriculture, we have long bought into the theory of “rugged individualism”. The thought that as masters of our own domain, we wear the victories and the losses as individuals. Only lately has the agriculture industry started to move towards collaboration, and away from individualism. And this is where the concept of coaching and peer groups has entered the arena.


Peer groups seem to be the newest trend in agriculture. Whether formed with individual producers, or created by industry professionals, the concept of coming together as a group and collaboratively solving issues is gaining popularity. I believe that the next generation of farmers have realized that they can’t be the masters of everything, and they’re moving towards a more collaborative culture built upon trust. This is where peer groups show their value.


So, what makes a strong peer group?


Most would believe knowledge, experience, and expertise are the main drivers of a successful group. However, in my experience, the strongest groups are those that accept the moniker of “open, honest, and vulnerable”. This terminology is the driving force behind EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) – a business management framework that we have applied in our business. It’s  allowed us to create open communication across the business in ways  we didn’t expect. In simple terms,  peer groups that can be fully transparent, extroverted, and not hold back, will be the most successful. Yes, experience and knowledge are components, but without transparency these are never brought to the forefront.


Secondly, a successful peer group must also have a strong leader. We’re talking about a third party, or outside mediator that will have experience with success and momentum. Have you ever been in a conversation where everybody is talking over everybody else? Or where one person is sitting in a corner not talking to anyone? This is what happens when a peer group doesn’t have a strong leader who can propel the discussion and control the tangents.


The most successful groups I have been a part of are those led by an outside force. This is why I still attend groups like Strategic Coach out of Toronto, it’s why our business still has an EOS leader that guides annual planning. It is not that we aren’t capable of group thought, it’s that we are too capable of group thought. We need somebody else to drive the bus.


While peer groups are great, what are the differences between coaching and these collaborative thought groups? The answer can be easily summed up in one word – accountability.


When you leave a peer group, you may have homework or research to complete prior to the next meeting. However, with coaching, you have SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based). You also have a leader who will follow-up with you to make sure you’re achieving those goals. This is true accountability.


The worst feeling in the world is knowing that you’ve let yourself down,  or you’ve created a  ceiling for yourself because you didn’t achieve what you set out to do. This needed level of accountability is the reason why I remain a member of Strategic Coach. It holds me accountable for myself, and governs how I hold my team accountable to helping me find success. This is true goal setting for an entrepreneur. Otherwise, you have no map for a very long, winding journey.


Other differences between peer groups and coaching include finding your unique definition of success. This is an area of failure for many peer groups. The idea of group thought  is when one individual identifies a solution and everybody else just endorses that theory. The value of collaboration is the collective’s varying ideals and discussion – not for everybody to come to a consensus. This is where coaching can create value-add. Through coaching everyone has their own defining plan for success of their operation. Every solution may be different for every person but it makes group thought very difficult when a coach forces you to apply it to your own situation.


In the end, whether you choose peer groups, coaching, or both, you’re already moving forward in your journey as an entrepreneur. Most business owners never take the time to work “on” the business, because they are too busy “in” the business. These concepts are becoming more widespread, and I highly encourage producers to take advantage of them when they exist.


“If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got” – Henry Ford.