Mastermind Groups

Harnessing the Power of Collective Wisdom

Mastermind Groups - Harnessing the Power of Collective Wisdom

© iStockphoto

Modern skyscrapers are a result of methods developed by Carnegie's "master mind" group.

We have here, in this business, a master mind. It is not my mind, and it is not the mind of any other man on my staff, but the sum total of all these minds that I have gathered around me...– Andrew Carnegie, Industrialist

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was one of the wealthiest industrialists and most respected philanthropists of his day. A self-made man, his was a true tale of rags to riches. Born to poor Scottish weavers, his family emigrated to America on borrowed money in 1848 to escape starvation. Fifty years later, he sold his Carnegie Steel Company for $480 million (the equivalent of $13.6 billion today.)

Perhaps surprisingly, Carnegie knew relatively little about the manufacture of steel. He attributed his success not to his own personal expertise and talents, but to the collective intelligence of his team of advisers. This "master mind," as he called it, provided the inspiration for the Mastermind Groups in Napoleon Hill's book, "Think and Grow Rich."

Franklin Roosevelt's Brain Trust is another example of this. During FDR's time as U.S. president, he needed to come up with an economic plan to bring the country through the Great Depression, so he assembled a group of academics to advise him.

Between them they created the New Deal, which regulated bank and stock activity, and provided large-scale relief and public work programs for people living across the United States. The New Deal was controversial when it was announced, but many believe that, without it, the country would have slipped even more deeply into recession.

Carnegie and FDR knew that groups of like-minded individuals have the power to elevate ideas and magnify success. When people pool their knowledge, skills and resources, they can achieve their goals much more quickly than when they work alone.

In this article, we'll explore the nature and benefit of Mastermind Groups, and we'll look at how you can set one up to accelerate your progress toward your goals.

What Is a Mastermind Group?

Napoleon Hill formally introduced the concept of Mastermind Groups in his 1937 book, "Think and Grow Rich." He described them as "the coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony."

Sometimes called peer advisory boards, peer-to-peer mentoring, or brainstorming groups, Mastermind Groups are groups of people who come together to accomplish a common goal.

Members share a common interest, skills, success levels, or objectives. They meet to share their ideas and problems, and to get feedback from other members. The idea is that everyone can learn and benefit from the group's collective wisdom.

The Benefits of Mastermind Groups

Mastermind Groups are great sounding boards for your ideas. Other members' perspectives can help you identify opportunities, problems and issues that you might not have thought of yourself. Working with others can help you to generate an entirely different approach or solution to a persistent problem, which brings you closer to your goal.

Group members can also help you to tap into other skill sets and networks. They may be able to fill gaps in your own knowledge, or introduce you to key people in different industries or from different backgrounds.

Also, by meeting regularly and holding one another accountable for achieving their goals, members of Mastermind Groups can inspire one another to stay on track. Knowing that you have to share your progress in the next meeting can spur you on, so that you don't let the group down.

Finally, you can also lean on one other for support. Group members celebrate their wins together – and commiserate with one another when difficult situations arise.

Finding Mastermind Groups in Your Area

If you would like to join a Mastermind Group, but you're not sure where to start, it's a good idea to look for groups in your area. Begin by asking people in your business network if they know of any groups that are looking for new members. You could also investigate industry associations to find formal or informal groups to join.

There are also various online resources that you can use to connect with others. Search Meetup® for groups with similar interests and find out when their next face-to-face meeting is scheduled, or check out Craigslist® for introductions to others with similar goals.

You could also join online organizations designed to facilitate group membership. Examples include the Entrepreneurs' Organization, Convene®, The Alternative Board®, and Vistage®.

How to Form a Mastermind Group

If there are no existing Mastermind Groups that fulfill your requirements, you may wish to set one up yourself. Here's how to get started:

Step 1: Define Your Purpose

The first step is to define the group's mission. Generally, Mastermind Groups fall into one of four categories:

  • Topical: The group focuses on a specific topic, such as fitness.
  • Goal-oriented: The group collectively wants to achieve a single goal, such as writing a book.
  • Business: Group members from varying industries want to grow their businesses.
  • Accountability: The group is formed to ensure that all members stay on track to achieve their goals.

Your meetings will be most effective if members agree on the group's core purpose. Begin with a broad definition of what you want it to achieve: anyone you invite to join must also support this purpose. (If necessary, you can refine your definition, with the help of the others, once your Mastermind Group is up and running.)

Keep the group focused by recording its purpose in a clear mission or vision statement. Mission statements define its primary objective, while vision statements identify its purpose in terms of values.

Step 2: Decide What Your Group Should Look Like

Next, determine how big you want the group to be, and who you want to have in it. There are no hard and fast rules for size: some groups are as small as two members, while others have as many as fifty.

Smaller groups allow more time for individual members to discuss their concerns, and they will bond more quickly. But if the group's goal is to exchange knowledge or build relationships, a larger membership will provide a greater array of resources and expertise that people can draw on.

However, bear in mind that it can be more challenging to schedule meetings for large groups, and it can be harder to get all members to participate equally, because the meeting time must be shared between more people.

Once you decide how big your group will be, you'll want to visualize who your ideal team members are. Groups are more likely to thrive if they consist of people with similar levels of experience, so everyone receives value from participating. Ideally, members will have a similar drive and commitment to the group's goal, and they should also be open-minded, otherwise they may not be interested in discussing issues. You'll also need to consider geography, if you plan to meet in person.

Depending on your group's goals, you may wish to recruit people from different industries or with diverse skill sets. This diversity can enrich the conversation and provide unique perspectives.


Recruiting members from competing organizations can prevent them from participating openly in discussions.

Step 3: Recruit Members

You can recruit members for your group directly, or by open invitation.

Start by considering people you already know from work and your community. They will often share your values and beliefs, and may already fit with your group's purpose.

Next, ask colleagues and acquaintances in your inner circle to recommend people who meet your criteria. You can also look for connections on social media platforms such as LinkedIn®. Study prospective members' backgrounds and review their posts to determine whether they'll likely be a good fit.

You could also join associations or attend seminars or conferences that focus on a topic pertinent to your goal. Meeting prospective members in person gives you an opportunity to assess whether they would make a good addition.

If you want to build a large Mastermind Group, you could post information about it on your website or blog, or on social media. You could also visit the online forums of relevant organizations and invite members to join you. Posters who frequently offer advice to others might make ideal members for your group.

Step 4: Define the Meeting Structure

Regular meetings are key to a successful Mastermind Group. There are no formal rules for structuring the meetings, but the general format allows everyone to discuss their status, explore problems, and set goals to achieve before the next meeting.

You'll need to consider whether it's best to meet in person, by phone or online. Applications such as Skype and Google Hangouts, as well as online meeting software, make it easy to collaborate with members in far-flung locations.

You should also decide how often the group will meet and for how long. Some groups meet weekly or biweekly. Others find that quarterly meetings work best. Dedicating a set day and time can enable members to avoid conflicts.

The size of the group and your objectives will determine the length of the meeting – generally, the larger the group, the more time you will need.

Step 5: Set Ground Rules

At its first meeting, the group should agree on the basic rules that all members will adhere to. Setting expectations is important to ensure that it remains productive and focused. For example, you may want to establish a rule that members must attend a set number of meetings, and any who fail to do so will be asked to leave the group. You might also wish to have ground rules for bringing new members into the group.

The first meeting is also a good time to discuss how the group will make decisions and resolve internal conflicts. For example, you may want to take a majority vote, or the leader could have the final say.

Some people may want to keep discussions confidential. In this case, your group should consider whether members need to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Finally, you should discuss the substance of the meetings. Will they be formal or informal? Setting a formal agenda or establishing time limits for speaking can give everyone an opportunity to participate.

Whatever format you choose, ensure that each meeting provides enough time for members to review their goals from the previous one, ask questions and solicit feedback, and set goals to accomplish for the next meeting.

Step 6: Assign Roles

There are various roles that can help a Mastermind Group run smoothly.

An essential one is the facilitator, who runs the meetings and makes sure that everyone stays on task and has a chance to speak. For reasons of fairness, many groups have a different member taking on the role at each meeting.

Other optional roles include the following:

  • A timekeeper, who is responsible for making sure the group stays on schedule.
  • A coordinator, who takes care of logistics such as scheduling, arranging locations, and collecting money in paid groups.
  • A secretary, who records the major points of the meeting and the goals, and disseminates them to the group.
  • A moderator, who is responsible for resolving conflict.

Pitfalls to Avoid

It is important that everyone in the Mastermind Group is committed to participating and meeting regularly. The group may falter if members regularly miss meetings, fail to prepare, or make excuses for not achieving the goals they've set themselves.

This is why every Mastermind Group needs a strong leader, who is prepared to challenge people who are not participating as they should, as slacking members can diminish the energy and fun of the whole group.

The most effective groups bring together people with similar levels of experience. Otherwise, more experienced members will serve as mentors to those who are less experienced and may become frustrated if they receive little in return.

Large groups can also become unproductive. The idea is to give all members a forum for discussing their ideas and problems but, if there is only a limited time for the meeting, people may not participate fully as they can't share all their ideas.

Groups that lack a clear purpose will also lack focus. The purpose should shape the structure of the meetings and the members' goals, but the group will offer little of value if people are not on the same page.

Finding This Article Useful?

You can learn another 204 career skills, like this, by joining the Mind Tools Club.

Join the Mind Tools Club Today!

How to Get the Most From a Mastermind Group

Successful Mastermind Groups consist of people who are committed to supporting one another. But to ensure that that commitment lasts, the group should schedule frequent meetings with action items due at each one. Holding meetings or setting deadlines too far apart can cause the group to lose momentum. To continue their progress, group members should also establish a way to communicate between meetings.

Preparation for meetings is also essential. It may be useful to set an agenda before each one, to give members an opportunity to think through topics ahead of time. Putting them on the spot during meetings will lead to less fruitful discussions.

Finally, you may want to consider charging members to join the group, to increase their level of commitment. However, it will be difficult for a new group without an established reputation to attract paying members: instead of charging a membership fee, you might consider requiring members who miss meetings to donate a certain amount to a chosen nonprofit fund.

Key Points

A Mastermind Group is a collection of motivated, like-minded people who want to collaborate with others on a shared objective. Members benefit from sharing knowledge, skills and relationships. By coming together, they raise the bar for everyone, inspiring and challenging one another to reach their goals.

Establishing an effective Mastermind Group requires several steps:

  1. Setting a clear purpose for the group.
  2. Choosing membership criteria.
  3. Recruiting members.
  4. Defining a meeting format.
  5. Establishing ground rules for meetings.
  6. Assigning roles.
  7. Meeting regularly.

While there is no recipe for a successful Mastermind Group, the most effective ones typically have members with similar goals and levels of experience.