Peertopeer exchanges enhance decisionmaking process

March 3, 2012
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Several West Michigan owners and CEOs have discovered that time spent with peers is making a positive difference in their businesses.

Amy Engelsman, CEO of Proos Manufacturing in Grand Rapids, defines peer-to-peer learning as collaborating with other business owners, CEOs and COOs she considers to be her “peers.” She defines peers as someone who is going down the same path as her.

“It is an opportunity to share issues and challenges, and provide feedback based on our experiences,” said Engelsman. “My peers have made a significant difference in the way I make decisions at Proos Manufacturing.”

Business owners all across the state are joining peer-to-peer learning groups to receive and provide strategies, insight and support on managing and growing their businesses. They are recognizing that peers are an excellent resource to enhance the decision-making process.

“Peer learning is being recognized statewide as an opportunity to learn best practices in an open and non-competitive environment,” said Carol Lopucki, state director of the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center. “As a member of a peer learning group, a business owner has access to years of experience and unbiased feedback.”

Make solid business decisions

Decision-making is an essential leadership skill. When business owners learn how to make timely, well-considered decisions, they can lead their team to well-deserved success. Peer-to-peer learning enhances the decision-making processes critical for owners who want to grow their established companies. 

“As long as a person is receptive to listening, peer learning will have positive impact. I’ve been very fortunate to be around people who are willing to share their experiences. At no time does anyone tell me what to do; they only share their insights. It helps me make an educated decision in regard to my business,” said Engelsman. “I am a better leader as a result.”

PeerSpectives Roundtables

The PeerSpectives Roundtable system is an innovative peer-to-peer learning system using a confidential format that focuses on sharing experiences instead of giving advice. The roundtables provide a valuable opportunity for business owners, CEOs and COOs to tap into the collective experiences of their peers.

PeerSpectives is a national program developed by the Edward Lowe Foundation and is available in Michigan through the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center, which holds the statewide license.

The Michigan PeerSpectives Network has seven roundtables across the state comprised of eight to 12 non-competing business owners. There are three tables in West Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Holland and Kalamazoo. Other groups meet around the state in various locations.

“We’ve seen an increase in the need for peer-to-peer roundtables in the state,” said Richard King, statewide PeerSpectives manager. “Owners and decision makers are recognizing the benefit of discussing their company’s growth concerns with peers.”

Each PeerSpectives Roundtable is led by a certified facilitator trained by the Edward Lowe Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to providing assistance to business owners seeking growth for their established businesses.

Donald Armbrester, executive vice president and COO of Action Fabricators, is a member of a Grand Rapids PeerSpectives table.

“PeerSpectives is a place where I can talk with other experienced executives about my issues as an owner of a second-stage business. My peers provide me with unbiased, knowledgeable feedback on issues that need to be resolved,” he said.

Englesman also is a member of the Grand Rapids PeerSpectives Roundtable. “There are numerous benefits of being a member,” she said. “Collaboration with other CEOs about struggles that I am facing and open communication with peers about things that have happened to our companies as we have grown from Stage 1 to Stage 2 are only a few of the benefits.”

Owners and CEOs interested in being part of peer-to-peer learning through the PeerSpectives Roundtables may contact the MI-SBTDC at (616) 331-7480 or

Jennifer Deamud is associate director at the state headquarters of the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center.

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