Business Study Groups- Part Two

Collaborative enlightenment delivers better customer service. Experience the value of multidisciplinary sharing.

By Tom Hubler

Key Takeaways:

  • A genogram is a visual family tree that uses symbols to show the connections between a person’s different intra-family relationships.
  • Long-standing study groups like mine encourage members to share the ups and downs of their practices with each other as well as personal challenges that may be affecting our work.
  • Study group members can widen your professional knowledge and be a source of specialized expertise that you can tap into when you have a complex case.

In Part One, we discussed the power of a multidisciplinary group and four key attributes that make for an effective, well-balanced study group. Here we’ll explore the value of multidisciplinary sharing and the impact it has had on me personally and on my professional consulting career.

I expected my participation in our study group to give me some insight into disciplines outside my own field that related to family businesses. When I joined, I was a consultant using therapy expertise to expose and repair issues among family members who owned a business together. The study group taught me a lot about other disciplines as facets of a family business. I became a savvier consultant for my clientele. It rang true when I was leaving a meeting held with my client and his accountant. On the way back from the accountant’s office, my client said to me, “I always thought of you as a psychological professional. I didn’t realize how much basic business background knowledge you have.” The study group exposed me to a rich array of professional business disciplines, which expanded my acumen.

That extended capability was also true for other members of our group. They were able to take their experiences and broaden their consulting perspectives. All this was, and is, an expected benefit of being part of the group. But there is much more.

It never occurred to me how I would be changed by participating in the group. For instance, I learned to communicate with different professions and to bridge our subjective perspectives. We would have differences; discussions did not always go smoothly. Sometimes these complications were created because of issues generated by our professions of origin.

We learned to understand each other better by using what’s known as a genogram, which is a kind of family tree. A genogram uses symbols representing various attributes (e.g., gender and family circumstances such as death, adoption, abortion, pets) to develop a pictorial display of a person’s family relationships. The genogram became the common language to talk about our own issues. It helped us bridge gaps between our professional backgrounds.

Glenn Freed Headshot

Source: Wikipedia.

Genograms are the core of Bowen Family Systems Theory, and are used to help explain how universal issues in previous generations are usually passed on to the current generation. One of the cases presented in our group involved a father who had engaged one of our study group members. Because our members knew about Bowen Theory, when the father started complaining about his son, the consultant asked how the succession had gone with him and his dad. It turned out to have been a similar scenario—the current difficult business succession repeated what had happened in the previous generation.

Thanks to genograms, the consultant from our group knew to ask the right questions and then could work to resolve the issue. His client benefitted from that extra expertise. It was only possible because we had already challenged each other about different perspectives that revealed our own need to use genograms in our study group discussions.

This resonance points to the comfort and continuity of the group that, over time, shaped us into a unique collection of business professionals. As always, we begin each meeting with a check-in. Each member shares the ups and downs of their practice. We share current personal challenges, such as aging parents, teenage children and health concerns. What began as a search for multidisciplined information is now a culture of respect, kindness and friendships that can become as caring and powerful as a family.

Most important, our study group has allowed each of us to become better at resolving issues for our clients, better supporters of each other and better people, individually.

Competition or collaboration

In today’s unforgiving competitive environment and climate for overly dramatic marketing, one might think that study group sharing erodes the consultant’s power, inhibits (or even exposes) competition and divulges experience’s secrets. For me, the reverse has been true. With the support of my study group I have:

  • Widened my knowledge without dissipating my own professional interest or “losing” my experiential edge.
  • Occasionally brought one of my study group colleagues into a complex case, and always had excellent results with no friction.
  • Never had to present or bid against one of our six members to win a client. This may be because we all come from different geographic areas so competition is never an issue.

The true beneficiaries of our study group are our clients. Even today, it’s rare for a group of high-powered professionals to share their strengths and weaknesses. Instead, if things aren’t going well, many tend to blame the client. I have learned instead that it’s usually a lack of creativity that’s at fault. Failures can result when we don’t understand our failures and don’t have the advantage of drawing on the expertise of others. A study group can help with it all.


For information about study groups, I suggest looking at Family Firm Institute, a worldwide association for family enterprise professionals. You can find them at www.ffi.org.

About the Author

Tom Hubler (tomh@thehublergroup.com) is president of Hubler for Business Families (hublerfamilybusiness.com) and an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas. He can be contacted at (612) 375-0640.