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The elements of successful study groups
The elements of successful study groups

Mar 01 2024 / Round the Table Magazine

The elements of successful study groups

How to start one and what every group needs.

Topics Covered

Participating members:

Regina Bedoya, CLU, ChFC, 30-year MDRT member and MDRT Past President from Juno Beach, Florida, USA
John J. Demboski, CFP, 18-year MDRT member from Santa Barbara, California, USA
Joseph L. Di Bella, LUTCF, 19-year MDRT member from Albany, New York, USA
Addie Murdock, 11-year MDRT member from San Diego, California, USA

How do you start a study group, and why do these groups need an agenda? During a panel discussion at the 2022 Top of the Table Annual Meeting, MDRT members discussed how their groups started, the benefits they’re realizing, and why having structure and accountability leads to a successful group.

Demboski: I have gained so much from my study group. It is the one place where people feel very comfortable telling me that I don’t know things. When you have a study group, you have people who know you, trust you and respect you, and there is enough rapport that they’ll tell you, “Actually John, that’s a terrible idea. You should not do that.” If we don’t have a study group, then we run the risk of being in an echo chamber where we have our clients and our team telling us we’re amazing, and we end up missing out on the critical objective feedback that can propel us forward.

Bedoya: We established our study group 10 years ago in a somewhat accidental way. It was not an intentional move. We had attended an Annual Meeting, and a few of us decided it would be great to get together to further discuss what we had just experienced at the meeting. We shared our takeaways and the ideas and strategies we could implement in our own practices. After a few meetings, we hired a coach to help us structure our meeting agendas and ensure that we used our time productively. We then started calling it a study group, the MAIA Study Group. Being a part of it has allowed all of us to achieve results that until then seemed unreachable.

Di Bella: I’ve been in my study group for 15 years. I was looking for personal and professional growth and just knew I really couldn’t do it alone. Our group came together very organically. Similar to your story, we met at various MDRT and industry events and were like-minded people. A few of us actually went to a baseball game, so that’s kind of how things started. Then we formalized and added a lot of structure to our group.

I started working with a partner, who was my dad. We’re two very different people with two very different visions and goals. My dad was very much the old-school insurance salesman, and he was great at it. I wanted to go in another direction and get into holistic, comprehensive planning and asset management, which was foreign to him and was not his passion.

He was in our study group for many years, and the group spent a full day at our annual meeting really helping my dad and me create a structure and strategy in our practice. That conversation would not have happened without the support of our study group. It really was transformational for me and my family, and for my dad as well.

Bedoya: We didn’t really know how to structure a study group. I too think our group happened organically. The coach we hired introduced us to a system called “The One Page Business Plan” by Jim Horan. There are many versions of it, including one for financial advisors. It offers very specific, simple steps to create a mission statement, a vision statement, objectives and measurable goals to be accomplished within a certain period of time.

We embraced this system, and once we shared each other’s plans, we were able to support, guide and hold each other accountable. The combination of structure and trust among members allowed us to expose vulnerabilities and challenges and achieve growth in different areas of our lives.

Di Bella: I was in two study groups. One failed, and one thrived. Spending time and determining why the one failed was really important and helped our current group be successful. Part of it is the structure of our annual retreat. We put together a very thorough agenda. The group is small enough where we can get feedback from the other members to make sure that we are touching upon all
the things they want to talk about during the meeting.

There were times during our group’s annual meeting, however, where some of us, including me, wanted to leave the group. I didn’t feel like I was getting what I wanted because there wasn’t clarity in setting expectations for what the members needed to bring to the annual retreat. Instead of complaining, another member and I took action and built a thorough agenda. That was really key. The other piece is that we meet once a year for five days. This is a big commitment. We’re asking each other to take time away from our family and our business.

We have to find value, so we created this round robin where each member has the other seven members at the end of the meeting tell that member about their biggest takeaways and what their changes should be based on the discussion we had throughout the week. That results in an action plan that each member takes home. Then we create buddies where two members of the group come together monthly for an accountability check-in.

The study group that didn’t work was focused on investment and planning strategies. It was a one-day quick data dump, and there was no additional connection, and that group fell by the wayside. It was a great group of people — very intelligent, very successful — but there wasn’t that emotional tie-in, which is what I was looking for.

Murdock: We had one person leave my group and then come back months later begging to get back into the group. We did let him back in, but it was really interesting to see. He left the group thinking it didn’t provide value and came back when he was ready to see that value. Another element from your group that is similar to mine is accountability, having people you can reach out to, who have expectations of you and hold you accountable to show up with a plan. In our group, we all check in and say we’re documenting whatever’s going on in our life, and here’s where we are, and we’re going to be present. Then we go into what we call the “5% update.” This is about the biggest wins or challenges that we have right now, and we’re supposed to pick two. A lot of them are business-related. Sometimes they are personal-related, but it allows us to peel back some of those layers of vulnerability and dive into the two greatest things that are impacting us. Then we talk about the feelings that are associated with it and how urgent it is, and then the group votes on what we’re going to talk about.

Sometimes it’s a very personal situation. Other times it’s a business challenge that we vote for. Then we ask clarifying questions to someone whom we nominate. We get into the nitty-gritty. We map out a structure, go over it every time and make sure we stick to it even when some of us don’t like to follow rules. It really allows us to have that combination of emotional and personal mixed with a lot of professional planning because we are all in the same industry.