How mastermind groups can help with personal growth

What is masterminding?

The concept was created by Napoleon Hill (not the Bonaparte one!).  It was first published in his 1925 book Law of Success, with more detail given in his book Think and Grow Rich.

Hill defines masterminding as:

Coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work towards a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony. No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.

In other words, the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

A mastermind group should feel like a safe place to go for support and development. In essence, you’ll receive feedback from your peers who will ask you good questions; give you space to think; help you brainstorm ideas and options; challenge you to commit to the next steps – and then hold you accountable.

Benefits of being in a mastermind group

  • Mutual support and accountability
  • Unleashed creativity and innovation
  • Peer learning – you will be more confident if you are ever in any of the situations discussed, even if you’ve not experienced them before
  • Someone to challenge your thinking and give you a diversity of approaches and ideas
  • Opportunity to bounce your ideas off people who are not directly connected with the situation so are therefore more likely to be neutral
  • Increased likelihood of taking action
  • Beneficial endorphins resulting from being asked your opinion and giving advice
  • Build your profile (this links to my articles on personal branding and fixed/growth mindset)
  • New relationships
  • Networking opportunities and contacts

Who to invite

There are advantages and disadvantages to making up a mastermind group from people who work within the same industry or are from a different one:

Same: When it’s important to talk to people who understand your world (particularly if you are in a heavily regulated or technical industry), your mastermind group could be comprised of internal colleagues from different departments or from within the same industry.

Different: When you work with a range of people from external organisations or different industries, you could generate more innovative ideas, and are less likely to be concerned about confidentiality and competition.

The ideal group size is 5 to 8 people. If you have more, you lose the connection and sense of commitment that people must give in order for it to work.

Most groups work best when the members have a different perspective to your own.


Success criteria

As with any team or group, the first thing to agree is your purpose: Why are you coming together?  Here are some of the key ways to set up your mastermind group to be successful.

  • People in the group should all be at a similar level, and experienced at what they do
  • Everyone should be equally committed to attending and contributing
  • Be clear on your goals – both what you want to get out of it as an individual, and with regard to your business challenges
  • Every six months, review your purpose, goals and practicalities, so you are consciously making it work
  • Think about budget, particularly if you are working with people from different companies when you may choose to pay for an external meeting venue or take turns to host. Also, the group may need a budget to commission research or book an external speaker
  • Maintain a spirit of harmony, without any egos. This links to my recent article about psychological safety
  • Be willing to show vulnerability. The first person to admit vulnerability gives everyone else permission to do the same, and that’s when masterminding becomes really valuable (usually after the second or third meeting). This links to my article about vulnerability
  • Don’t worry if your particular issue doesn’t get discussed. You’ll still benefit from giving and learning, and will no doubt get your turn next time
  • Agree working principles and stick to them (including how to enable psychological safety)
  • Establish the criteria for people joining and leaving. Agree how the mastermind group will end
  • Be prepared to ask people to leave if they are not demonstrating the appropriate level of commitment or harmony. Address this promptly, or you will be seen to allow unhelpful norms and it will affect the enjoyment of the whole group


Mastermind groups typically ‘meet’ once each month or quarter. If you can, meeting face-to-face is ideal, followed by video conference and then ‘phone. Allow up to a whole day each time, with at least 45 minutes per topic.

Use technology to help you have discussions, or as a place to share documents in between meetings.

Appoint a facilitator. This could be a single member of the group, rotated amongst the group, another employee from within your organisation (maybe as a development opportunity for them, or because they are experienced at facilitating), or you could invite an external facilitator to play this role.

How to facilitate a mastermind session

Here is a typical process, building on one that I was taught when I qualified to become a coaching supervisor. I still use it today when working with leadership teams.

  • Everyone writes down whatever is keeping them awake at night – and I don’t mean a partner who snores!
  • Rank the topics in order A B C
    • A: Alligator, dangerous and about to bite you
    • B: Bear, worrysome and growling
    • C: Crow: cawing and annoying
  • Decide which level A topics will be discussed (moving on to level B topics if there’s time)
  • The first member briefly describes their issue
  • The other members ask questions (remembering there is always something deeper than the original issue). Despite temptation, no-one is allowed to offer solutions at this stage
  • Everyone shares their suggested solutions. The person in the hot-seat is not yet allowed to respond
  • The first member reflects back what they have heard, and commits to which actions they will take
  • Someone can be appointed as their ‘conscience’ or accountability buddy, who will phone up after an agreed amount of time to check they have done what they said they would

Next month

Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action