Have you ever wanted to start a mastermind group? Masterminds, personal board of directors, advisory boards are all becoming a key part of being a modern professional.

Why do mastermind groups work?

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

— African Proverb

Masterminds leverage the best part of collective intelligence and accountability of your peers. If they are structured right…

I have been a part of 7 different mastermind groups and had varying success with each. These days, I get asked about them all the time so I wanted to do an overview of the different kinds of mastermind groups that are out there and how you can start your own.

What is a mastermind group?

Mastermind groups help likeminded professionals get peer support, brainstorm ideas and create accountability. They are typically goal oriented and success driven. Mastermind groups are also known as a personal board of directors or as an advisory board.

A mastermind group or a personal board of directors is when you gather like-minded professionals to meet. Typically these groups are 4 to 8 people, but can be as small as 3 or as large as 100. Members should understand your industry but do not necessarily have to BE in your industry. The goal of a mastermind group is to meet regularly (usually once a week or once a month) to offer professional brainstorming and encouragement.

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Do mastermind groups really work?

It depends on how you set-up and structure your mastermind. Here are the 3 keys to starting a successful mastermind:

  1. Find likeminded NON COMPETITIVE members. This is the most important thing to keep in mind if you are thinking about starting a mastermind group. Do NOT group with potential competitors or work colleagues that are up for the same opportunities as you. The entire point of a mastermind is to give open and honest feedback and advice. If you are competitive with someone in ANY way it makes it impossible to have transparency.
  2. Make it goal-oriented.  I have a specific structure for setting goals (watch my goal-setting training on it here) and your mastermind group should have one too. Everyone can have their own goals — but there needs to be some goal so that your group can have accountability. A mastermind group without a goal is simply a hangout.
  3. Give it consistency. It doesn’t matter when, how or where you meet — as long as there is consistency. Once you decide to meet monthly, make sure you meet every month. The moment you lose consistency, you lose accountability.
personal board of directors

*Why start a mastermind group?

Our society emphasizes friends, family and co-workers as essential parts of our emotional and professional support system. Friends can offer distraction and encouragement, family members give unconditional love and co-workers may provide a sense of camaraderie and even professional advice. However, there are times when we need this fourth type of support.

Successful companies have boards of directors, why shouldn’t you have your own personal board of directors?

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Why should you start a Mastermind group?

There are so many benefits to having a mastermind group. Keith Ferazzi, in his book Who’s Got Your Back, was one of the first to promote the idea of a small, intimate professional networking group. He says it was a gamechanger for his success.

Here are some of the top reasons to consider starting or joining one:

  • Honest Feedback. Friends and family can be wonderfully supportive and encouraging, but often times they either don’t want to be constructively honest or, if you are talking about Mom, Dad or Grandma, think everything you do is spectacular no matter what. A personal board of directors or mastermind group is a great way to have a supportive—but honest group of individuals to bounce ideas off of, get advice and constructive criticism on everything from reports to resumes.
  • Practice Your Leadership. If you want to increase your impact, masterminds are a great way to start easy. I have some great science backed skills for being a leader you can use to best lead your mastermind group.
  • Fresh Perspective. Sometimes it is good to take a break from your industry or co-workers and get an outside perspective. Often times your peers in a mastermind can help bring new energy to your ideas or career and get you to meet new people.
  • Accountability. Goals can be hard to keep. With a mastermind or personal board of directors you can set goals and have your co-members help you stick to them. A recent study by Susan Helper, Morris Kleiner and Yingchun Wang confirm the importance of having a small peer group to depend on in a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Their research suggests it’s best to motivate groups, not individuals. They compared compensation packages and found that group incentive pay motivated workers better than individual incentive compensation.
  • Improve your People SkillsMeeting regularly with others also helps your people skills. In this digital age we spend less and less time with others—especially virtual workers. Researchers led by Thomas W. Malone at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management have found that groups of people that do well on tests had the most members that were good at reading each other’s emotions. They had equal contributions to communications and were patient with each other’s answers and issues. One of the best parts of a mastermind is you do not need a leader and as a group you can solve problems as a group better than one of the individual members could by themselves.

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How to start your own mastermind group?

I have both joined and started my own masterminds. I highly recommend trying both — having two masterminds can actually be a great way to compare opinions. If you want to craft your own experience I recommend trying to start your own. Here’s how:

1. Identify 4-6 Professionals

The hardest part is connecting with a good group. I have found that 4 to 6 people is the perfect number for a mastermind. Less than 4 people and you don’t get enough varied opinion, More than 6 people and the group goes too long (and people don’t get enough time to talk.) Here’s how to pick the right people:

  • Related Industries or Same Job, Different Industry. The perfect mastermind group is made up of people who are in related industries (so everyone has the same lingo, but aren’t competitive) or are in the same role, but in different industries. For example, my favorite mastermind was with other authors and YouTubers who taught totally different topics. We have the same business models, but no competitive audiences.
  • Speaks the Same Lingo. Think of a few professionals you know who may or may not be in your industry, but understand your industry.
  • They are SUPER Smart. There is one requirement for your mastermind members: You MUST respect their opinions. This is the whole point of a mastermind! Who do you think is intelligent, open-minded or collaborative? Who’s opinion would you respect?

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2. Decide how often your mastermind should meet

I know mastermind groups or Personal Board of Director Groups who meet every week, I know others who check-in once every six months. Have an idea of how often you want to meet and tell invitees what to expect. The goal with timing a mastermind is accountability and progress. You want everyone to have enough time to get their homework done BUT also not meet too far apart where people don’t have enough accountability.

Your mastermind should aim for each member to have accountability and progress.

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3. Define Ground Rules

Once you have got your mastermind group together define some ground rules. These can be whatever matters to you and your group. For example, you might talk about open support, no judgement, constructive criticism only, confidentiality etc. You might want to create a Google Doc with the rules and then decide on your structure. I encourage personal board of director groups to go over goals quickly every time they meet and then do goal check-ins with each other.

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4. Pick a Structure

This is the most crucial part of a mastermind – the structure. I have only been in 1 unproductive mastermind. It was a great group of people, but the problem was there was no structure. At least not one that worked for everyone. After trying many, many different structures, here is my favorite. Every time you meet do the same questions.

The best questions to ask in a mastermind group:

  • What was your biggest success since the last time we met? This gives everyone an opportunity to share a success and get support. We very rarely get as much encouragement as we like — this is a great way to start a meeting (and pushes you to achieve a success to brag about!)
  • What is your biggest challenge right now? It is good to dig into at least one specific challenge every meeting. Just meeting and chatting is not a real mastermind.
  • What one goal do you want to achieve before our next meeting? I like to keep goals as specific and achievable as possible. If you want to do big goals like annual or seasonal you can do them in addition to these mini-goals. This also gives people ‘homework’ in between meetings.
  • How can we help you? This is how the mastermind group can get accountability. Remember: Think of these mastermind group members as your personal board of directors – they are there to help you!

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5. Let it Grow 

You will find that your group will grow on its own—in terms of both rules and members. Remember, you do not want it to be too big because you want everyone to feel supported, but otherwise let members dictate the direction of the group.

Let them help keep you motivated. One of the secret benefits of a mastermind group is allowing them to keep you motivated and accountable.

Hopefully you can develop a mastermind or personal board of directors for yourself and reap the benefits of having such a positive support system in your life.

Remember: Mastermind groups are wonderful ways to formally ask for support from the people in your life. It’s hard to ask for advice. A mastermind makes it easy.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

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