I spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders of organizations. We have a lot of discussion around what is important to work on, how we will do that work and why it is important. It’s rare that a business has access to information from other businesses like its own to draw from in making these decisions.

How cool would it be to be able to call your competitor and ask them what level of inventory they keep in a certain product area, or how much they expect a salesperson to produce in a given time period or if they were looking at any new solutions to add to their offerings next year? How cool would it be if you could do this with multiple competitors? You can, and you should. But likely not how you may think.

If you are making strategic decisions of any kind in a business, you need to get input beyond just your four walls. Some of the best input can be from a business advisory group or BAG.

Industry-specific. My friend and fellow EO forum member Joe Freedman recently started his own industry BAG. This type of BAG allows you to take a very broad view on an organization yet dig deep where it’s needed. The key is to ensure non-competing markets so everyone is comfortable with sharing genuinely.

He picked six non-competing market businesses that were very much like his own and invited those business leaders to form a group of industry experts to learn and grow their respective businesses through shared experiences.

Role-specific. If you sit in a certain seat in an organization, like CFO or marketing director, there are hundreds of other people right in your town who have the same role, albeit at different businesses. These other people would make great members of your own BAG. Creating a group of six to 10 likeminded professionals who share the same types of challenges and come together to solve them can be a powerful tool for you in your role.

Leadership-specific. Leadership has its own set of challenges, and to be good at it you had better invest time and energy in personal improvement. To quote a Zen proverb, “It takes a wise man to learn from his mistakes but an even wiser man to learn from the mistakes of others.”

Much like the role-specific BAG, the leadership BAG should consist of similar leaders from a variety of businesses. My only suggestion here that is different is to attempt to gain members that are close to the same stage in life. Not that everyone should have kids between 6 and 9 years of age and lead a $20 million business. But, having too much diversity in members’ life places can be less valuable. If you operate a $10 million business with 75 team members and are in your 50s, look to build a group that is close to the same so that members understand and get you at your place in life.

Tips for any of these. With any group you choose, you’ll want to do a few things to ensure confidentiality, continuity and benefit for all those involved. So, first, create your group “constitution,” which will be your operating agreement. It sets up all the rules of how you will act, what you will do and what you will do if someone doesn’t follow these rules. It’s important to get this set up in the beginning and refer to it often. Remember, you’ll be sharing information that, if not held in confidence, could damage businesses and potentially lives, so get this right and only allow people to participate who agree and will abide by these rules.

Second, create a meeting rhythm, a flow if you will, of when you will meet. I suggest you set these as far in advance as possible and potentially have them happen on the same day, like the third Thursday of each month or in person once a quarter and via Skype monthly. Do what you feel is needed to create the greatest benefit without making too heavy of a burden.

Third, always have an agenda and strictly adhere to it. Create a meeting agenda, one that you distribute prior to the meetings, so that everyone is prepared. Oh, and start and end on time — always!

I heard it put this way once: “You cannot read the label from inside the jar.” Venture outside your own jar and get engaged with people who are going through the same types of challenges you are going through to mutually seek solutions. Enjoy your BAG.

This story was originally published in The Tennessean.