What Is a Mastermind Group?

May 13, 2016

Picture credit: flickr

Imagine you had your own personal advisory team on call... Imagine you were part of a group of people that are in the same position and just "get you" when you discuss your challenges and celebrate with you when you share your successes... A group where each member wants you to excel... Together you brainstorm and your shared ideas are much more than any of you could have come up with individually... But this group also holds you accountable for delivering on your commitments and helps you stay on course to reach your goals.

This is what a Mastermind group is about and if you are lucky enough to be invited to one you will most likely see a marked change in yourself, your career and your company's success.

But what is such a group exactly and how does it work?


I am aware that both, BTM and Masterminds, are not very well known concepts ... yet. 

Let me first look at them independently and with this blog article start with Masterminds, before I tell you more why we at Xuviate are so excited about BTM Masterminds.

The "Master-Mind"

I have been asked by several people who the "mastermind" in our groups is, or even if we at Xuviate see ourselves as "masterminds" or "gurus" and I must admit that I can understand these questions. The term was, however, not invented by us, nor does it mean any of the above.

The term Mastermind Alliance or Mastermind Group was coined by Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich as far back as 1937. In this book, 

Hill provides the reader with 13 principles to achieve success that he distilled from studying numerous successful business people, As one of the two key principles, the book recounts how many of them rely on a small, tight-knit group of advisors to help them build their businesses. 

In his words: 

No two minds ever come together without a third invisible force, which may be likened to a “third mind” [the master mind]. When a group of individual minds are coordinated and function in harmony, the increased energy created through that alliance becomes available to every individual in the group.

He goes on to describe the "mastermind alliance" as:

A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage one to follow through with both plan and purpose.

Napoleon Hill went on to write several more books and even created a 13-part TV series about the success principles. Think and Grow Rich has stayed his most influential work with over 70 million copies sold and has won many accolades.

Examples in History

Whilst Napoleon Hill was the person who gave it a name, the concept around Masterminds is about as old as mankind - even the Greeks still have documented evidence of using the construct. As mentioned above, Hill himself based his findings on observations of many successful individuals. 

Brett and Kate McKay have compiled a great article about four of the more well-known Mastermind groups in history in their article Iron Sharpens Iron: The Power of Master Mind Groups. Some [slightly edited] excerpts below:

The Inklings: Two classic series of literature, "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "The Lord of the Rings" were honed and improved by a Master Mind in Oxford, England. This group was called The Inklings and included an assortment of great poets and writers such as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.

Picture credit: flickr

The Tennis Cabinet: When Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency, he became at age 42 the youngest president in the country’s history and brought an unprecedented zest and vitality to the White House. A man who placed a premium on living the strenuous life, he liked to get a couple hours of physical exercise in the afternoons. Accompanying him for these excursions of “vigorous play” were a group of men TR referred to as his “Tennis Cabinet.”

The Junto: In 1727, Benjamin Franklin formed the Junto, a mutual improvement society born of Franklin’s love of conversation, personal progress, philosophy, and civic involvement.

The Vagabonds: {A] seemingly unlikely Master Mind group [were] Henry Ford, the automobile mogul, Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Warren G. Harding, US President, Thomas Edison, famed scientist and inventor and Luther Burbank, respected agriculturist.. Starting in 1915, Edison, Firestone, and Ford, along with the naturalist Thomas Burroughs before his death in 1921, and a rotating cadre of guest members like Burbank and President Calvin Coolidge, took to the road each summer in motor camping caravans.

Ryan Battles added one more that will many Disney fans would be able to relate to:

Nine Old Men - A group of Disney animators that were responsible for many of Disney’s hits from 1930-1970. Classics such as "Peter Pan", "Cinderella", and "Alice in Wonderland" were birthed in these meetings.

Modern Mastermind Groups

In the past about 20 years, the Mastermind concept has more and more been adopted by entrepreneurs as well as professional coaches. This led to a well documented body of knowledge about its structure and best practices. 

The adoption by coaches as facilitators has also broadened the audience away from only the entrepreneurs and business owners.

The advent of the Internet and with it the feasibility of multi-party video meetings without any expensive specialised equipment has furthermore led to the majority of these groups being conducted on-line - even if the vicinity would make regular in-person meetings theoretically possible. The convenience and time saving far outweigh the need to meet in person, but it does add some specific challenges for the facilitator as  better structure and control is needed.

Mastermind groups can be found in many guises with up to hundreds of participants, but the most popular and reportedly most successful are still the small and personal groups with 6-10 participants that meets regularly (once or twice a month) over an extended period of time - at least 3 months, but usual minimum periods are one year, with many groups reported to stay together for ten or more years. 

Benefits of Mastermind Groups

The human being is a social animal and programmed to best work in small groups, but yet in a work setting, we often do get isolated. 

Karyn Greenstreet of The Success Alliance does do a good job, summarising the main benefits of belonging to a Mastermind Group:

- Increase your own experience and confidence
- Sharpen your business and personal skills
- Create real progress in your business and your life
- Add an instant and valuable support network
- Get honest feedback, advice and brainstorming
- Borrow on the experience and skills of the other members
- Create action plans and have the group hold you accountable for fulfilling your plans and goals
- Receive critical insights into yourself
- Optimistic peer support in maintaining a positive mental attitude
- A sense of shared endeavor - there are others out there!

In my own experience it is amazing to see how attendees get excited, once they really get going. 

I just yesterday got the following comment from a participant of one our BTM Mastermind Groups:

Thanks Mathias, I am looking forward to the session.  Now this is relevant IT.  It is not up-in-the-sky stuff, but real issues. - Branden Patience

The Structure of a Mastermind Session

As mentioned above, the popularity of Mastermind groups has led to a few best practices and standard structures emerging.

One of the foundational ones to the success of any Mastermind Group is the concept of a "Hotseat":

During each session, one or several of the participants will be put in the hotseat where they share one of their current challenges or questions. This is then used as a basis for a group discussion to assist with this issue. This helps as a focussing mechanism, but also gives relevance to the group on a much deeper level than would be achieved when just talking about an arbitrary topic.

And 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 in the first place.

To be successful, a Mastermind Group should have a specific topic or goal and the selection of members is obviously critical. The members need to fit together culturally and should be on more or less the same level in the topic, otherwise the stronger members will always mentor the weaker ones and will not benefit as much from the relationship.

It is also recommended that one has a strong facilitator who is an expert on the subject. Whilst they need to beware not to dominate the discussion, they will help to drive the topic forward and help to get the discussion unstuck and challenge the attendees on yet another level.

In Conclusion

Creating and growing a Mastermind Group is not for the faint of heart. If one gets it right, however, the results can be amazing.

To just quote Branden Patience once more:

I initially thought that the Mastermind groups will be all pie-in-the-sky stuff that I would not be able to use or implement in some way.  I can honestly sit here and tell you that the information/guidance I received thus far has been relevant. 

 He goes on with a warning, though

Word of caution:  be willing to accept when you are being challenged and take criticism to heart. 

This directly leads to another two important topics:

  • What are the requirements for attending a Mastermind group?
  • How to find and choose the correct (type of) Mastermind group to join?

Touching on them now, however, does transcend the scope of this current blog article and I would not do their importance justice. Over the next few weeks I will be publishing additional articles that will specifically deal with them.

Please stop by and tell us in the comments below whether you found the information valuable. 

About the author

Business Agility Coach | Abundance Thinker | Helping Mid-Market Companies Evolve by Using the Kanban Methodology
- 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.

  • This is one of the best articles I have read about Mastermind Groups. Well done for helping me to clear my mind about a number of things.

    Thank you!

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
  • This is one of the best articles I have read about Mastermind Groups. Well done for helping me to clear my mind about a number of things.

    Thank you!

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
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