7 Essential Attributes of a Successful Mastermind Group

By Mathias Tölken | Mastermind Group

Jun 02

(article updated 25/01/2017)

I have previously answered the question, What is a Mastermind Group? and shared my excitement in the 27 Life-Changing Benefits of Joining a Mastermind Group.

But is this all hot air?  And what makes a Mastermind Group actually succeed?

The good news is that it has been proven time and again that the benefits can be replicated... if some rules are observed.

The popularity of Mastermind groups over the past especially 20-odd years has led to quite a few best practices and standard structures emerging, both for the agenda of a Mastermind session as well as the roles and rules needed to run a group successfully. 

Make sure that you do your homework and confirm that the Mastermind Group you plan to join is run accordingly to maximise your outcomes!

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1. The Hotseat is Core

The strongest value a member gets out of being in a Mastermind group is the chance to be in the Hot Seat. - Karyn Greenstreet, The Success Alliance

Probably the most foundational concept to the success of most modern Mastermind Groups is the "hotseat" (or "hot seat"):

During each session, one or several of the participants will be put in the hotseat one by one, where the focus of the group is on them alone for a pre-determined amount of time. We have found 20 to 30 minutes to be a good time per participant and each member of a Mastermind group should be in the hotseat monthly or at most every six weeks.

The hotseat session follows a predetermined structure:

The person in the hotseat first gives feedback on the main achievements since they were last in the hotseat. Focus here is specifically on the commitments they made and what worked. It is very important to note that it is ok to brag a bit and celebrate success together with the group. It reaffirms the feeling of success and provides inspiration to all attendees (including the person in the hotseat themselves).

Stumbling Blocks / New Challenges:

What did not work? Is there a new challenge or question that the participant wants help with / feedback for? It is important that the person in the hotseat comes prepared and gives the others detailed background to the issues and what was attempted already to solve the problem. It is also important that he / she has already thought of why this problem / question is important, tried own answers and can articulate how a successful resolution of the problem would look like or what it would achieve.

The preparation for a hotseat session easily takes half an hour or more and forces the participant in the hotseat to get clarity on the issue. Ideally the group should use a standard template that the hotseat occupants can fill in and distribute a few days before the Mastermind session so that all others can come prepared as well. This document is then used as a basis for a group discussion during the hotseat to assist with this issue. It serves as a focusing mechanism, but also gives relevance to the group on a much deeper level than would be achieved when just talking about an arbitrary topic.

This section of the hotseat is the core of the Mastermind session and requires all members to actively focus, listen and then take part in the discussion. The group brainstorm creates ideas and solutions - often ones no individual would have had on their own - that is the Mastermind at work, transcending each individual.

Please do also note that these discussions are not all moonshine and roses. It’s okay to disagree. If everyone always agrees, you might as well be talking to yourself.

During this part, the participants are also allowed and even encouraged to challenge each other, ask tough questions and hold each other accountable for commitments that were made and not held. This should be a robust discussion, but one always needs to remember that all members are there to help each other grow and become (more) successful.

We have found that for at least this discussion part of a Mastermind session a video conferencing solution, where all participants can see each other, is highly recommended as the nonverbal communication between attendees does add a great deal to the discussion.

New Opportunities / Commitments:

The discussion will often unearth new angles to try or even surface outright solutions. These should be documented and the person in the hotseat should then commit to new action steps or goals. One needs to clearly distinguish between actions that can be taken till the next Mastermind session and longer term goals. It needs to be noted that ideally every participant should have only one or at least the fewest possible number of longer term goals that they are working towards. Having too many will cause them to be all over the show and easily leading to bad multitasking as these goals are mostly in addition to the day-to-day work that still needs to go on.

The big goal then needs to be broken down into sub-goals that can be achieved one by one – from Mastermind session to Mastermind session. Here the benefit of professional facilitation and the use of a standard framework can be extremely beneficial to maximise the impact and guide the participants.

It is interesting how both, the person in the hotseat, as well as the other attendees, gain from this type of interaction. The one gets input on a specific issue they have, whilst the others get input on a topic they might also grapple with or it helps them to prevent getting stuck with this or a similar issue in the first place.

2. Follow a Standardised Agenda

The hotseat is the centrepiece of any Mastermind session, but the rest of the agenda has also become quite standardised for optimum results. There are several possible formats and one needs to adopt the one that suits the type and structure of the group best.

We have found the following rough agenda to work extremely well for a 90 minute to two-hour session:

2-3x Hot Seat:

The chosen member will share details about their situation in the first few minutes. The other members of the group then have the opportunity to provide specific help and advice to this individual. Preparatory notes circulated in advance.

Session Topic:

Instead of one or two of the hotseats one can, by prior arrangement, include a specific topic. This is advised if there is a specific topic that comes up again and again or one that many members jointly decided to get more info on. This can be in the form of a free form discussion or presented by an internal or external speaker.

Recap and Goal Setting:

Each member (except the one(s) who were in the hotseat) updates the group on how they did accomplishing their goals from the previous meeting. The purpose here is not to go into too much detail or probe, but simply have that accountability of vocalizing out loud how they did.

At the end of their turn they will then briefly state their goals for the period leading up to the next session.

Whilst a hotseat takes 20 to 30 minutes, this recap should not take more than three to five minutes per attendee and any possible discussion should be kept to a minimum.

An interesting fact that we noted is that often the next steps for non-hotseat attendees are directly informed by one of the hotseat discussions - the "Mastermind" at work!

Admin / Hotseat Selection:

All general admin of the group. The persons to sit in the hotseat at the next session are selected, so they can come prepared with questions or concerns to bring before the group.

3. Clear Role Allocation is Key!

Apart from the general attendees, a Mastermind group needs several other roles. In a paid-for group most or all will be handled by the person or company who professionally facilitates the group.

Facilitator (Mandatory):

The facilitator is the undeniable key role of any Mastermind group. Some people even report that up to 90% of groups without clear leadership/facilitation do fail. This is one more reason why all the more Mastermind groups are run by professional facilitators. The facilitator has to keep the group together and facilitate the sessions. They need to handle group dynamics and individual members’ needs and personalities. They do also serve as first point of contact for any dispute resolution.

The facilitator will have to be fully versed in using the underlying framework or model that the group uses and it will be beneficial if they are an expert on the topic of the group, especially if it is a topic-based or business group.

The role of the facilitator does not stop with the end of the meeting as they do need to help members set and action on their goals, track group member progress and monitor intra-group discussions between sessions. They also need to come to all meetings fully prepared – they especially will have to have engaged with the preparation documents of the hotseat occupants for that session.

Facilitation can easily take one to two hours of extra work for every hour of Mastermind session.

Timekeeper (Optional):

This role can generally be handled by the facilitator, but some groups find it beneficial to appoint another person to make sure that the agenda is adhered to. In this instance, the role is often also rotated between members – just not one of the hotseat occupants in that meeting. This gives the facilitator the freedom to focus fully on the topic, especially during a hotseat debate.

Note Taker (Highly Recommended):

Whilst every member should keep their own notes and some private Mastermind groups have no central records, it is highly recommended that at least the main points of a hotseat as well as the recap and goal setting are documented. This central record can then also be used track progress over longer time or to review longer term plans and recurring issues. Many groups make sure that the facilitator is not at the same time the note taker and the note taker function may rotate. If the facilitator takes this role, then they will probably just take down the main points during the meeting and spend some time after the meeting to compile the more detailed notes / minutes.

Moderator (When Needed):

Generally the facilitator serves as moderator of the group, but in case of specifically difficult or expert topics or if there are disputes, then an external moderator might be needed for part of a meeting or even a set of sessions.

Coordinator/Organiser:

This role is tasked with scheduling the meetings and general group organisation and admin. 

Other Components of Running a Successful Mastermind Group 

The above three attributes are the crux of a Mastermind group and as such they took up the bulk of my article. There are, however, a few other ones that should not be overlooked to make the group run smoothly:

4. Clear Rules:

As with any gathering of people it is imperative that all Mastermind groups adhere to a clear set of rules and regulations. This starts with joining a group and the criteria for adding additional members via a group mission to clear ground rules in terms of expectations of members and the running of the group.  One piece of documentation that every group needs to have and that every member should explicitly agree to is some form of Non-Disclosure clause or agreement. The information shared in Mastermind groups is often of a highly personal and confidential nature and you do not want to only deal with this topic once a problem occurs.

5. Preparation:

Every attendee has to prepare for every meeting.

A meetup without members arriving prepared will soon deteriorate into a chat room or social gathering and members will start getting disillusioned as they will not see any results. We already touched on the preparation a member has to do for their hotseat session and the preparation the facilitator does. All other members do also have to keep track of the goals they committed to in a session and report back on progress as well as prepare for the goal setting at the end of the meetup. They should also report on special achievements.

6. Minutes & Recording:

As alluded to in the “note taker” role above, it is highly recommended that key points of the meeting as well as the commitments of members are clearly minuted for future follow-up. The better and more organised the minutes, the easier the follow-through.

Many online voice and video conferencing tools do offer the option to record a meeting including any screen sharing. It is highly recommended to do this for record purposes and later reviews, but especially also so that members who miss a session can view it and catch up in their own time.

7. Communications Between Meetings:

One more important component of a Mastermind group is that communications are not only limited to the actual scheduled sessions. Members should be able to engage with each other on any variety of topics at any time. This can include anything that was discussed in the sessions, but also any other question or comment they might have. Tools like Google Groups, Slack, email groups or other communication mediums are ideal for such group discussions. Additional to group communications, members are naturally also free to engage one-on-one.

To Sum It Up...

Being part of a well run Mastermind group can be a most fulfilling and, as reported by many participants, even life-changing experience, but the converse is also true. If you should consider joining a Mastermind group, do yourself a favour and make sure that the organiser(s) / facilitator(s) have done their homework and if possible have themselves at least been part of a successful group. It would be even better if they have run or are running other Mastermind groups. If so, try to speak with other participants who can vouch for their quality. 

If you have war stories to tell yourself or have other tips and tricks that you would like to share, please feel free to comment below the article or get in touch with me directly. 

And if you are an SME IT Leader, have a look at our IT Leader Mastermind Groups.

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About the Author

Digital Sensei | Abundance Thinker | Helping Mid-Market Companies Evolve through Digital Transformation - As trained Industrial Engineer with close on 25 years' experience as IT Professional and Business Executive in the mid-market IT industry, Mathias Tölken loves to share his experiences and expertise with others.

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