For four hours once a month, appointments are cancelled, cell phones are powered down and members are not available to the outside world; there will be no interruptions.
Mia Hempey, president ctc TrainCanada
- by Theresa Whelan
It's time for Forum. It's time to address the things that keep you, a private entrepreneur, awake at night.
The protocols are strict. A tight agenda is adhered to. There is a $100 fine for being late and if you miss two Forums, you're out. Presentations have to be coached before you deliver them.
The dictionary defines gestalt as a configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts. The peer-to-peer network Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) takes that definition one step further and uses ‘gestalt’ to mean the unbreakable unity of Forum to learn from shared experiences rather than from giving advice or opinions. Forum is gestalt; the words ‘could, should and would’ are avoided. It is a safe place where entrepreneurs meet to unload things that are not shared with spouses, friends or boards – without judgement or criticism.
For most entrepreneurs, their identity is tied up in their company and they take every aspect of it as a personal reflection of themselves, carrying it with them 24/7. Forum provides a safe place where members face their emotions from all the various aspects of their lives and examine how these emotions combine into a whole that affects that person's relationship with his or her environment, whether it be at work or at home.
The EO is made up of more than 11,000 influential business owners with 153 chapters in 48 countries. The Ottawa Chapter boasts 34 members managing almost 1,000 employees and over $2.5B in sales.
These business owners share unique challenges, joys, aspirations and disappointments that few non-business owners can understand; so they turn to their peers in Forum to discuss and hopefully make peace with these complex issues.
"Forum offers members a safe place to discuss work stresses and emotional and personal issues related to being an entrepreneur with people who are coping with similar issues," explains Mia Hempey, seven-year EO member and President of TrainCanada, a virtual training company. "Sharing Forum experiences arms me with over 100 years of real-life experience from people who are in my shoes.
"For example, when I was thinking if selling CTE Solutions to TrainCanada, they completely understood the emotional attachment I had for the business and how I would need to transition. They helped me to think that through.”
Ms. Hempey says while she has supportive family and friends it was the Forum members who “really got it.”
In addition to Forum, EO offers numerous other professional development and networking opportunities – guest speakers to team-building exercises to international conferences to backyard barbecues. However, member surveys consistently indicate that Forum is by far the leading reason why members joined EO.
The composition of each Forum is not by chance. Each member is carefully screened and selected by the EO chapter board to ensure there are no competing businesses or personality conflicts. This is important because the trust and confidentiality within Forum must be absolute. A breach would result in the offending member being banished from the organization – however, to date, no such measures have been known to happen within the Ottawa chapter.
"This requires a lot of trust in people you barely know. Placements are looked at carefully. The person being placed also has a say, to make sure it is a good fit," says Ms. Hempey. "Then once you are in a Forum, that's your Forum. You get to a level where you wouldn't want to be in another forum."
While most employees can just go home after work, entrepreneurs carry the stress of their business with them all the time: the guilt of having to lay-off or terminate long-term employees; the need to hire specific positions, but not having time to recruit; selecting and trusting co-workers; the legalities of every human resource issue imaginable; problems with inherited employees; buying or selling your company; restructuring; or it could be personal, such as marital or children issues.
"It's all related if you have a business, and it all affects you and your performance," Ms. Hempey says. "What keeps you up at night? That's what you need to vent on and that is always changing. You have to explore it and discuss how others dealt with something similar. It's peer sharing."
And what if it all touches a nerve and gets too overwhelming? Each Forum has a 'safe word' to instantly stop the conversation and the topic is not to be mentioned again.
"I have no doubt that EO Forum has made me a better partner, mother and boss," says Ms. Hempey. "You have to invest in yourself, so once a month I stop and think about what is important to me and go to Forum. I don't know that I would take the time otherwise to stop and reflect on where I am and where I am going. Then I am recharged for another month."