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This happens to all of us:
You reach a plateau in your level of professional (or personal) success.
You want to do more, but you simply don’t know *what* steps you need to take. You try talking to your friends or family, but they don’t have the answers.
So what can you do when there’s nobody else to turn to?
The short answer is you find (or start) what’s called a “mastermind group.”
Mastermind groups are the secret weapon that many successful people use. They’re not too hard to start, but they can be challenging to manage on a consistent basis.
In this article, I’ll provide a quick definition of the masterminding concept, talk about finding the right mastermind group, and then provide a quick action plan on how to create an agenda for a mastermind group.
Let’s get to it…
What is a Mastermind Group?
The concept of the mastermind group was popularized by Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich. Hill didn’t “create” this idea, but he was one of the first people to present it to the masses as a valuable way to build alliances with others who share mutual interests.
The word mastermind describes the synergy created when several people come together to combine their efforts toward a common goal. The idea here is that the total effort (in terms of mental power) equals more than the sum of its parts.
We can see examples of masterminding throughout history, although it may not have been identified by the same term.
A great example is the Committee of Five of the Second Continental Congress. Committee members wrote the Declaration of Independence, a powerful document that shaped a nation. That’s masterminding in the truest sense of the word.
Famous Mastermind Groups
Here are some other examples of famous mastermind groups:
Algonquin Round Table
A celebrated group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits. Members met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 until roughly 1929.
At these luncheons, they engaged in wisecracks, wordplay and witticisms that, through the newspaper columns of Round Table members, were disseminated across the country.
In its ten years of association, the Round Table and a number of its members acquired national reputations, both for their contributions to literature and for their sparkling wit.
A club for mutual improvement established in 1727 by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia.
Also known as the Leather Apron Club, its purpose was to debate questions of morals, politics and natural philosophy, and to exchange knowledge of business affairs. Members of the Junto created a subscription library of their own books.
Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs, calling themselves the Four Vagabonds, embarked on a series of summer camping trips.
The idea was initiated in 1914 when Ford and Burroughs visited Edison in Florida and toured the Everglades. The notion blossomed the next year when Ford, Edison and Firestone were in California for the Panama-Pacific Exposition. They visited Luther Burbank and then drove from Riverside to San Diego.
In modern times, we see masterminding at work in areas such as organized religion, politics, education and the military. As you can see, the concept has expanded significantly since its inception in the business world.
The primary benefit of masterminding is stimulating new ideas, getting motivation from other members and providing inspiration to others as you move forward to meet your goals.
Before we dive into the process of finding (or forming) a mastermind group, let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages of this concept.
The Benefits of a Mastermind Group
Having a set group of people to whom you can turn for ideas and support is invaluable. Think of it this way—if one accountability partner is good, imagine how much you can learn from an entire group.
When you have three to five people in a close-knit group, there will always be someone available to take your call or meet with you if you desperately need advice.
Being able to meet with your mastermind group for feedback is like having multiple coaches. You can sit around a table (or a bar, or a computer if you use Skype) to hear what each person in the group thinks about your situation.
Members may have different perspectives and think of new approaches you had not considered. You don’t always have to go with their suggestions, but sometimes you’ll find that your next “ah-ha moment” comes from a casual comment made by another group member.
Multiple inputs and viewpoints are far better than a single one. Your mastermind group members can pool their intelligence to offer a crowdsourced solution to any obstacle.
Have a problem you can’t seem to solve? Ask your mastermind group and watch them come together to offer solutions you can use.
The people in your group will have connections you might never have on your own. If you need to get in touch with someone who previously seemed unreachable, one member of your group might be able to offer an introduction.
Ability to learn new things
Each member should have a slightly different set of skills and knowledge. Meeting with a diverse group of people makes it easier to learn, grow and adapt new strategies. However, members shouldn’t be so diverse that there’s no crossover or common ground to which you all can relate.
For example, a nonfiction writer, fiction writer, publisher and blogger would make a good mastermind group because they all have a business that revolves around creating content for a specific audience.
On the flip side, a writer, artist, fitness expert and businessman might not share enough common experiences to give value to one another.
If members of your mastermind are in similar (but non-competing) businesses, you can cross-promote each other’s products or services. This type of networking allows group members to reach people they would not be able to reach alone.
The Drawbacks of Masterminding
Waste of Time
It can be easy to fall into a group that’s a waste of time if you don’t carefully select the group members. If you’re an energetic action taker, it can be frustrating to surround yourself with people who have a casual approach to life and business.
And unfortunately, if you find you are stuck in the wrong group, it can be difficult to leave the group without hurting feelings and burning bridges.
You may find that you have one or two group members who monopolize everyone’s time when you meet as a group. Every member should be given the same amount of time and attention to share their experiences.
When there are too many weak links in the group, the meeting will quickly become a therapy session instead of an action-focused conversation that helps all the members.
Again, everyone should be around the same level of success. Otherwise, you may find that you give more than you receive in a group that isn’t well-matched or balanced.
While a mastermind group has some disadvantages, it’s easy to prevent them if you’re careful about the selection process.
Not only should you look for the right people, you must make sure it’s the right mix of people. In the next section, I’ll go through a six-step process for forming a mastermind group that’s focused on getting results for each member.
6 Steps for Starting a Powerful Mastermind Group
As we’ve discussed, picking (or forming) the wrong mastermind group can quickly become a massive waste of your time. Even worse—surrounding yourself with people who have conflicting mindsets can often lead to a de-motivated attitude or lack of desire to work on your goals.
That’s why it’s important to be very selective with the people you ask to be part of the group. Here is the six-step process I recommend.
Step #1: Find the right people for your mastermind group.
Meeting with like-minded people on a regular basis is the key to tapping into the power of masterminding. You will need to find peers who share similar goals but are also different enough that you can provide feedback based on a unique perspective. This will add diversity and value to your mastermind group.
The best way to get started is to create a list of people in your personal network. Your list should include people you already know, friends of friends or people you want to know.
To create the optimal group, you should look for the following characteristics in potential members:
Now that we know the qualities a potential mastermind group member should have, here’s where to look for members:
You’ve probably heard about the theory of six degrees of separation (or at least you know about the game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”). The point here is it’s surprisingly easy to connect to virtually anyone if you know how to leverage your existing personal networks.
After the initial introduction, schedule a phone conversation and take time to get to know the potential group member. If you feel there is a high level of rapport, see if s/he is interested in joining a mastermind group.
Step #2: Make a mastermind proposal.
How do you pitch a mastermind group to a potential member? Here are a few strategies you should follow:
1. Build rapport
Asking someone to join a mastermind group is a significant request. Time is one of our most precious assets, so most success-minded people won’t join a mastermind unless they know the person asking and feel the meeting will be a valuable use of their time.
Most people won’t make such a commitment unless they have at least a casual relationship with the person doing the asking. Don’t just dive in and ask strangers to join your group. Get to know them, talk a few times on the phone, see if you get along and then propose the idea of being part of a mastermind.
2. Show proven results
Few people will want to be part of a group unless one (or all) of the members has achieved a high degree of success. In other words, you might want to hold off on forming one until you can prove that you’re passionate about your goal and have something of value to offer other members.
3. Have a clear purpose
Is it a professional or personal mastermind? What are your main areas of focus? What type of background is required to join?
Prospective members will want to know specifics to see if they will get any value from the group. Remember—most people are willing to help others, but they also want to see clear evidence that joining the mastermind will benefit them in some way.
4. Detail the commitment required
For a mastermind to work, members must be willing to commit to a specific amount of time on a regular basis. They also need to show up and stay for the entire meeting. Be open and up front about these obligations from the beginning, and you can weed out those who aren’t that interested.
5. Provide plenty of detail
Be clear on the details of the meetings. (I’ll go over specifics in the next steps.)
6. Invite potential members
Select a group of people you think will work well together, and then invite them to join. A few might not be completely sure about the idea, so you might want to suggest a “trial” month and emphasize that they can make a decision at the end.
It’s not hard to find potential members of a mastermind group. The trick is to make sure everyone meshes well with one another. You need to look for people who work hard to reach their goals and have a positive attitude about life in general.
Step #3: Decide when and where to meet.
What you decide for this step will depend greatly on the nature of the group. If your goal is to create a virtual mastermind group with people from all over the world, then you will be limited to voice over IP (VoIP) options like the following:
- Google Hangouts
If you’re organizing a local group, on the other hand, then your options include anything from a casual meetup at Panera Bread all the way to reserving a business conference room for an entire weekend.
If you plan to meet over dinner or coffee, be sure to pick a spot that is quiet or has a private area for your meeting. You need to be able to talk without being overheard by other diners or forced to talk over loud restaurant noise.
Another option to consider is meeting at a member’s home. You could even rotate host duties so everyone shares a little of the responsibility. Obviously, this really depends on your comfort level with other members of the mastermind. If you aren’t sure about your group yet, meet in a public place until you are comfortable enough to have a meeting in a member’s home.
Whether you decide to meet in person or virtually, it is important to make sure every meeting has minimal distractions and all members are fully present in the conversation.
Step #4: Create rules for the mastermind group.
A mastermind group requires a formal set of rules that gives structure to the meetings. Implementing rules prevents one person from monopolizing all the time, ensures all conversations focus on specific goals and provides opportunities for members to receive honest feedback on their challenges.
With that in mind, there are few things to consider when creating group rules:
Define the goal(s) for the mastermind group. Group goals are similar to a company’s mission statement—they create a solid foundation for the group and help group members understand what they should expect at every meeting.
During your first session, ask each person what they hope to get out of the group and how everyone can help them. It’s equally important to cover what members don’t want from a group. This last question is extremely important because some people enjoy an atmosphere of friendly banter, while others prefer a strictly business approach. It’s best to start by identifying any potential landmines and dealing with them immediately.
After the first meeting, draft a written list of ground rules for the group. Each member should have an opportunity to add to, delete or edit these rules, so the final version will be a blend of everyone’s expectations. (You can use a program like Google Docs to share this file and anything else you create as a group.)
Keep these rules on hand during each meeting. You should also consider reading the ground rules aloud before the first couple of meetings to keep make sure everyone is aware of the group’s expectations.
In all meetings, stress how important it is to respect the time of others. Keep everyone focused by creating an agenda for each meeting. You should create an outline of discussion topics and agree to limit the amount of time spent on each topic. Make sure each person is able to view the outline to keep the meeting moving and on track.
Give each person a time limit to talk about a particular topic. The time limit should be the same for all members. A good rule of thumb is five to 15 minutes per person.
Limit the amount of time people are given to respond to comments made by other members. Having a time constraint in place gives the meeting structure, keeps things moving forward and helps make the best use of everyone’s time.
Set up a guideline that says any discussion should focus on accountability-related topics. It’s okay to engage in fun banter, but you don’t want the meetings to turn into a free-for-all where people waste time joking around or complaining about their businesses.
Establish guidelines for how decisions will be made within the group, such as how the group functions, when the group will meet and what actions the group will take.
Create systems for getting rid of noncompliant members and finding replacements for members who leave the group. Again, all members will be involved in setting up these guidelines, which will promote unity and make it easier to keep the group what you want it to be.
Clarify that the group is not a place for egos and competition. All group members should work together and respect each other for the mastermind to work as desired.
If you enjoy having a lot of personal freedom, then following a long list of rules might seem too restrictive. That said, having this structure keeps everyone focused on talking about their goals and providing actionable advice to one another.
Fortunately, if you’re smart about finding the right people, these rules won’t need to be enforced because each member will understand the importance of making sure the conversation stays on topic.
Step #5: Maintain supporting documents.
In addition to maintaining a set of rules, you should also create documents that provide structure for the meetings. (Again, Google Docs a great tool for this.) These files don’t have to be fancy; you just need a simple document covering each of the following items:
You don’t have to maintain every file I just mentioned, but if you start the group in an organized fashion, it will be easier to convince members to treat each session as a valuable use of their time.
Step #6: Create “hot seat” time (optional).
The “hot seat” is a powerful concept I use with my mastermind group. During a hot seat, members get extra time to talk about their goals, but everyone has to focus on the challenges they’re experiencing.
A person’s time in the hot seat can last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, but even a short session is extremely useful because other members provide feedback and present the person in the hot seat with a series of ideas that can be implemented immediately.
The hot seat should have a rotating schedule so everyone has a chance to benefit from it. This means Member A will be the focal point during the first meeting; then Member B will have her time during the second meeting. Follow this schedule until everyone has an opportunity to be on the hot seat. At the next meeting, start the rotation all over again with Member A.
As you can see, it’s not that hard to form a powerful mastermind group. That said, you might find that some of the components are a little confusing. That’s why I provide a sample group structure in the next section.
How to Create an Agenda for a Mastermind Meeting
Remember—the true purpose of a mastermind is to help members achieve their goals. With that in mind, the meetings need to be structured in a way that limits the amount of time each member has to speak.
We’ve already covered the systems you need to put into place to form the foundation of the group, but let’s take a look at some of the nuts and bolts of running an effective meeting.
Keep precise meeting times.
Schedule your meetings on consistent days and at consistent times so people get used to attending on a certain day—like every first and third Wednesday at 7 p.m. The date and time is up to you, but the important thing is consistency.
All members need to be punctual, with a five-minute buffer for people who are running a little late (like someone having a Wi-Fi connectivity issue for a virtual group).
We all have busy lives, so respect everyone’s time by keeping a tight schedule and not allowing the “chronically late” arrivals to derail these meetings. If you have someone like this in the group, then perhaps it’s best to pick a different person.
Stick to the agenda and meeting structure.
When people start talking, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of a new topic. If you stick to the agenda, however, the meeting will be productive and meet the objectives of all group members. Print out an agenda and have it in front of everyone at the meeting, or send it in a text or email. Have members follow along with the agenda during the meeting so everyone stays on track.
Keep “talking time” equal for all members.
I know we have touched on this, but it is worth repeating. If you need to use a timer, then use it for everyone! If you have a large group, you may need to limit speaking time to five minutes per person.
Small groups with only a handful of members may be able to increase the limit to 10 or 15 minutes. In any case, you need to stick to the limit and make a rule stating that no interruptions are allowed (other than questions and suggestions) while someone has the “floor.” You can also make a rule stating that no one can provide feedback until after a person has finished speaking.
Determine whether or not you need one or more group facilitators.
For a smaller group, you only need one facilitator. If you have a group with 10 or more members, two facilitators would be better. You may even find you don’t really need a facilitator because everyone does a great job sticking to the rules.
When you first start a mastermind group, it’s good to have a facilitator to give each meeting structure, keep people focused and make sure the conversation is flowing.
Begin each meeting with an overview.
Each member should have 30 seconds to one minute to update the group on struggles and/or successes since the last meeting. In most cases, the update should relate to any accountability statements members made the week before.
Set aside hot-seat time.
The hot seat provides members with an individualized level of attention and honest feedback about what they can do next. Being in the spotlight can be stressful, but it can also provide amazing insight into strategies members hadn’t yet considered.
End each meeting with a wrap-up.
During this time, the facilitator can wrap up loose ends and provide an opportunity for members to share quick items, ask questions or suggest agenda topics for the following meeting. Lastly, the meeting should end with each member sharing an accountability statement they promise to accomplish before the next meeting.
If you want to run a well-organized mastermind meeting, you need to be able to manage your time effectively. To illustrate this point, here is the format we use in my current mastermind group:
Doesn’t look too hard, right?
Getting Started with Masterminding
Joining a mastermind group can be an effective strategy for overcoming the challenges you face on a regular basis.
I promise that once you’ve been in a few mastermind meetings, that it’s not too hard to get a great flow of conversation where each member does his or her best to help everyone else.
Are you ready to start masterminding?
If so, then I recommend picking a topic where you’re personally struggling and using the tactics described in this article to recruit other people who share a similar desire to improve themselves.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.