When Lisa Lorimer's company, Vermont Bread, in Brattleboro, Vt., went through a growth spurt several years ago, salesdoubled in just two years. To help prepare her staff to meet the challenges of fast growth, Lorimer began arranging foremployees to meet their counterparts at bigger companies. "We get about a dozen people into a van and travel to severalcompanies," says Lorimer, whose company had 1998 sales of $10 million. "We talk to the people on the floor rather than tothe CEO. I sit back and let my employees do the talking."

Lorimer got the idea for the field trips when she noticed how valuable it was to network with her own peers at othercompanies. She decided she wanted her employees to have that opportunity, too. Most companies, Lorimer reports, weremore than willing to "let us in behind their facade," she says. "It's just a wonderful time to connect with other businesses."

In fact, Lorimer liked the results of the visits so well that she organized another round of trips when her company wasplanning a big automation project. This time, she and some of her staff visited other automated bakeries, mostly companiesserving different market niches or serving local markets different from those her own company targeted. "We wanted to seewhat other people had done," she says. "We've come back with some great ideas."