When we think about support groups, we usually think about how they help when things go wrong. We may picture a circle of grieving widows or recovering addicts. Peer support groups provide a space for people to share personal struggles that feel otherwise alienating, and they offer valuable therapeutic benefits because they foster feelings of togetherness among individuals who share common experiences.

But peer support groups are also a powerful professional tool. Like-minded individuals can come together to share business insights, network, combat workplace stress, and motivate one another. Feeling validated by other professionals can be uplifting and freeing. Knowing that others struggle with the same issues — and being able to share growth strategies and celebrate successes together — can introduce a sense of community and empowerment to your professional life.

What Does a Professional Support Group Look Like?

In its simplest form, a professional support group is just a group of individuals who meet regularly to discuss their goals, frustrations, and failures. This could be as straightforward as a regular phone call between a few people. When my wife and I were first growing our business, for instance, we jumped on the phone once a week with a mentor. These weekly calls helped focus our goals and raise our spirits throughout the trials of scaling up.

  • Membership Groups

Other forms of support groups are more organized. Membership-based groups like TIPS, for example, connect local businesses as referral partners. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with this type of group. It helped keep me up-to-date on business growth in my area and network with locals, but I had to be cautious of members whose only goal was to obtain more business.

  • Brainstorming Groups

Another type of support system is a brainstorming group, which consists of individuals in the same profession but in different marketplaces. In the past, this type of support has worked extremely well for me because members were able to share ideas, challenges, failures, goals, and dreams with others in similar companies. We tried one exercise that I found particularly helpful: When a fellow member was working through a challenge, we would brainstorm solutions by going around the room and having each member ask a single question about the issue.

  • Accountability Groups

Accountability groups are another option. They’re usually comprised of friends or personal acquaintances who help hold each other to specific goals.When my wife and I got married, we established 10 personal goals that we wanted to accomplish within 10 years. We wanted to own two investment properties, pay off all our debt (except real estate loans), go on a cruise, and establish college funds for our oldest grandchildren. To hold ourselves accountable, we shared these goals with some friends, and with their help, we reached eight of the 10 goals three years ahead of schedule.

  • Mastermind Groups

However, of all the groups I’ve been involved in, my favorite has been a mastermind group — where I met regularly with like-minded individuals from different professions to work toward both professional and personal achievements. In one such group, a mentor helped me create a company that’s now quadrupled in value. He also helped me craft a culture for my company that’s set the tone for its success.

Finding the Right Fit

Each type of group comes with its own benefits and challenges, and the group that suits you best will depend on what career stage you’re in. If you can’t find an existing group that meets your needs and aligns with your professional life, consider starting your own. For instance, if you’re expanding into new territory, you may want to gather with individuals who encounter the same challenges. If you want to connect with your neighboring businesses to better understand your local environment, starting your own support group allows you to tailor support that suits you best.

But be aware, if you mismanage your support group, it can do more harm than good. Groups founded solely on exchanging business referrals, for example, can devolve into a competitive mess. Groups that lack an agenda or clear purpose can fall into the hands of one overbearing personality, giving other members little say or value.

Boost Your Professional Life With a Support Group

To get the most out of your professional support group, remember these three tips.

1. Establish Goals and Set Deadlines

Goal-setting is essential to a support group. Decide early on what success looks like to you. Ask yourself: What needs to happen in the next year to make this group a worthwhile time investment? Establish several goals you think the group can help you meet and give at least one of them a realistic deadline. If your group hasn’t helped you reach that goal by that deadline, a different group may be a better fit.

If your support group is comprised of your current colleagues, consider devising a group goal. My real estate company set a goal to double our market share in residential sales in two years. During regular meetings, we set benchmarks, timetables, and investment requirements so we could keep track of our progress and adapt our strategies. We ended up hitting our goal three months early. Establishing goals on a timeline will help you measure your own success — and determine whether your support group played a part in helping you meet your goals.

2. Do a Group SWOT Analysis

If you’re involved in a group of industry peers, each member should evaluate thestrengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — otherwise known as SWOT — of his or her company’s competitors. For instance, I once joined a group of professionals who owned multiple real estate offices. Together, we would go through a SWOT analysis every year. I always enjoyed the activity because it would illuminate opportunities and failures that were pertinent to everyone in the room.

3. Identify Your Top Three Support Advocates

You are the company you keep. When my coaching clients aren’t satisfied with their current levels of success, I ask them who they’re hanging out with. More often than not, these individuals stick to the same circle of business acquaintances who lack the skills or insights they need to make their vision a reality.

When it comes to your support group, surround yourself with influential, smart people. Your work will reflect those qualities, and having people you look up to on your side will boost your confidence and give you courage. So look around at your sphere of influence, and ask yourself: Is anybody reaching the level of success that we want?

We all need support from people who can empathize with us. That’s especially true as we strive for career growth. Find a support group that can inspire, rally, and keep you accountable, and you’ll find that 10 heads really are better than one.