How to Start Your Own Study Group

When advisors learn that I facilitate high-performance team meetings, sometimes called study groups, they want to know how to set one up where they live. Here’s my advice.

You don't want to focus on a specific topic unless you want the group to meet just a few times. Setting up a team to only discuss investments, for example, will not sustain itself for the long term. Although discussing investment philosophy and other related topics with colleagues is valuable and a subject that comes up periodically in my team meetings, it is not a topic that in and of itself will sustain interest for years to come.

For ongoing meetings, an opportunity for advisors at a similar point in their career to meet regularly and discuss a variety of topics is the most beneficial.

Initial questions to answer

Here’s some general questions to get out of the way before meetings begin:

  • How to recruit participants? If you are affiliated with a large firm, you can see if other advisors are interested in participating on a team. If you are a member of an industry organization such as the Financial Planning Association (FPA) or National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), you can ask around to gain interest from other members. You can post on Linkedin (if you are linked to a number of local financial advisors) or on APViewpoint. Talk with your wholesalers to see if they know someone who might be interested.
  • How many participants is optimum? Typically, six to eight is ideal. You want to have a variety of experiences, but not so many participants that each person doesn’t regularly have the opportunity to be the “advisor of the day“ or to share their expertise.
  • Where to meet? Does anyone have a conference room that can be used? It needs to be a quiet, private location. Parking is a challenge in certain locations, so pay attention to this.
  • How often to meet? Monthly or semi-monthly is ideal to keep the momentum going. Meeting less often than this will make it challenging to keep participants engaged.
  • When in the week to meet? I have facilitated high-performance team meetings on each day of the week and I didn’t notice a drop in interest on any particular day. I have also had meetings scheduled in the early morning, late morning and afternoon. Here again, it has worked out. It boils down to figuring out what is going to work for participants. There will likely need to be some concessions made on the part of participants as trying to get a group of advisors in the same room at the same time is difficult. Everyone has commitments on their calendar and many of those are unchangeable.
  • How long should we meet? My high-performance team meetings are three hours long, once per month with a specific agenda and an advisor of the day.
  • If advisor of the day format is used, who is first, second and so on in the rotation? Once the rotation is set, you keep going in that order, switching only when the advisor of the day who is up next has a conflict and is unable to attend the next meeting.

To get up and running, ask a facilitator to run a few initial meetings. Once the facilitator steps aside, how will the meetings continue? Will one person take the lead, or will there be a rotation of leaders? For my meetings, I am the facilitator. As part of my responsibilities, I help the advisor prepare for his role as advisor of the day. See below for prep information.

Rules of engagement

For any ongoing, successful team, rules of engagement are important. Here are some of the rules for my teams:

  • Arrive on time, end on time
  • Be prepared
  • Be fully engaged, no distractions, actively listen
  • No technology, unless it is for the benefit of the meeting
  • No question is a bad question
  • No idea is a bad idea, we will decide on which idea(s) is best
  • Professionally respect each other
  • If you disagree, do it respectfully
  • How someone feels cannot be disputed
  • Drop any preconceived ideas at the door
  • Honor confidentiality
  • Be honest with yourself and others
  • Openly admit mistakes, lack of knowledge
  • Ask clarifying questions, not leading questions
  • Be inquisitive, seek to understand
  • Arrive with thoughts and ideas, but not the answer. You may be surprised by what you learn
  • Be open to challenges in your thinking
  • Challenge others respectfully
  • Be specific; "when this happens, it makes me feel...”
  • Everyone has something to offer and something to learn
  • Provide genuine encouragement
  • Each team member needs to own accountability for the success of the team

How I prepare

I take my role as facilitator very seriously. I conduct a preparatory call with the advisor who is scheduled to be the advisor of the day, the one who is coming to the team with a specific issue to cover, opportunity to discuss or idea he or she is considering and would like other team members to weigh in on. For the advisor of the day to gain the most from the meeting, we hash out ideas and make sure we have a specific question or questions the advisor would like answered. Sometimes this can take a bit of time for us to clarify what help the advisor is truly wanting from the team.

I also conduct a recap call with the person who was advisor of the day the previous month. A large portion of the accountability factor is coming back to the team one month later to discuss progress on the action items the advisor committed to the prior month as advisor of the day.

Part of the agenda for each meeting includes a coaching gym. This time is set aside to discuss a general topic that is of interest to all of the advisors. It is voted on at the prior meeting. Sometimes, this involves me working with a wholesaler who is attending the session to conduct a mini workshop. Other times, it is my responsibility to compile information on the topic selected to share and discuss during this portion of the meeting. On a quarterly basis, we review trends in our individual business plans. This is another accountability piece. Many advisors write their business plan for the year and then don’t look at it again until they sit down to write the coming year’s business plan. We discuss items that are going well, challenges we are facing, trends we are noticing and how we are trending towards our goals. I keep the master list of what each advisor has committed to for the year and distribute this information prior to our quarterly business plan reviews.

In addition to these tasks, I also create the agenda, reserve the conference room we use for our meetings, confirm the meeting with all team members and develop and distribute the schedule for the coming year.

Benefits of participation

In preparation for this article, I asked my participants about the value they receive from their participation in the team. Here’s what they said about the value of participating:

  • Valuable topics discussed and tools provided
  • Accountability. I don’t want to be the advisor that comes back next month and tells my team that I didn’t accomplish any of the items I committed to doing
  • Exchange of ideas. There is no real place to do this. I have a room full of advisors to learn from
  • Commitment to business goals
  • Take time out of the day to focus on the business
  • Camaraderie
  • Learn from peers what they are doing and what is working for them
  • Reinforce ideas I am considering
  • Talk about money issues – can’t talk to friends about how much money I make and the challenges of being in business for myself
  • Save money and time by learning from others what they have done or their experience with something (VoIP for telephone as a recent example)
  • Learn from other people’s mistakes (I will not switch to VOIP based on other team members’ experience with VoIP)
  • Find out that I am not alone
    • In making a mistake
    • Regarding a particular client issue or staff issue. A recent example of a client issue that was discussed, centered on a higher than average number of client reschedules. What was discussed in the group is the fact that the markets are humming along, and the economy is as well. Client portfolios are well positioned too. It is possible clients are not very interested in meeting right now, because there is nothing of concern for them as it relates to finances. One advisor thought it was just him and his clients, but discovered during our discussion, that this is something other advisors are experiencing too. This lead to a discussion about different topics to discuss with clients during this time of low volatility. The ensuing discussion was very valuable and would likely not have occurred outside of our meeting. It also lead me to an idea for a future article.

Want to learn more

If you are interested in learning more about setting up a group in your area, send me an email. I am happy to chat with you about it. Since the agenda used during these meetings is proprietary to another company, I am not at liberty to share it. However, I can walk you through some details.

Located in the San Francisco Bay Area or near Sacramento? You are welcome to attend one of my meetings as a guest. Contact me for our schedule.

I have been thinking about establishing a remote high-performance team to accommodate advisors who live outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, are interested in being a member of a team, but are not interested in establishing their own or don’t have enough interest locally. If you are interested, let me know.

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