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How to set up a mastermind group

Mitchell Friedman

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I appreciate the thoughtful responses I received to the following posting:

I want to form a MasterMind group and would appreciate information you can share -- including resources and experiences, positive and negative.

from Scott Friedman

As for some ideas in moving forward with your mastermind partners, here is what I would suggest:

  1. Establish guidelines for how you operate with each other. ie. no putting down other speakers, bring solutions vs. problems, share time don't dominate, confidentiality, mutual respect etc. This is probably the most important step as it creates the atmosphere for you to operate in. I would keep them simple but clear.

  2. Determine a focus for your meeting prior to the meeting. You may pick the topic one meeting, your buddy the next. We have done topics from taxes, to resources we use in our business e.g. printer, photographer etc., to the sales process and evaluating each others' marketing packets. This gets you thinking about what you want to do before you come together. This step made a big difference for us.

  3. We start out sharing a success or breakthrough. This can be a personal or business example. This is like a celebration time and sets a wonderful tone. We are also beginning to ask each other if there is an area we need support on so everything is not always focused on the busy, happy, good.

  4. Figure out a way so you are all bringing something to contribute. We decided to bring a resource to each meeting to share with the others. It can be an article, a tape, a book. Our commitment is to have six copies so we give them away to each other. We are having some good fun with this one.

In describing our mastermind group, Mark Sanborn wrote:

Napoleon Hill coined the concept of the mastermind alliance in his classic book Think and Grow Rich. He believed that a group of like-minded, achievement-oriented individuals could dramatically leverage each other's success.

Whether or not you agree with all of Hill's ideas, the mastermind concept has proven itself over time as a valuable resource for people of every profession.

Several years ago Scott Friedman approached me and six other Denver speakers about forming a local mastermind. Those people included Eric Chester, Mary LoVerde, Melanie Mills, Brian O'Malley and Brenda Abdilla. For fun we called ourselves the Magnificent Seven, but our intent was much more serious.

We wanted a group of fellow-speakers that could share, both personally and professionally, and build into each other's lives to not only grow our respective businesses, but to offer support and encouragement.

The most challenging aspect of our group was finding a date each month when all or most of us were available for a meeting. Scott handled this difficult task with a rule that whoever missed a monthly meeting would have priority in scheduling the next month's meeting. The system worked very well.

We met at Scott's at 9:00 am sharp. There was usually coffee and some fun unhealthy snacks. After settling in for the meeting, we would usually begin with a quick update, the emphasis being on "good news" since we last met. This was a great way to encourage each other and build momentum from our successes.

The next item of business was usually related to a theme or themes for the meeting (working with bureaus, internet, showcases, etc.) We all tried to bring resources to each meeting -- names of exceptional vendors, book recommendations, article reprints and the like).

Time allowing, we would devote 10-15 minutes to each member who needed help with a particular problem or opportunity. Not everyone had a need every meeting, but everyone contributed assistance. Over time the brainstorming and suggestions proved to be one of the most productive and profitable aspects of our association.

Somewhere around noon we would leave Scott's and head for a nearby restaurant to continue our conversations, and more often than not, just enjoy socializing. We were on our way back to our offices or out of town by 1:30 pm at the latest.

While I'd like to be able to offer "4 easy steps" to forming your own mastermind, there aren't any. What I can provide are some guidelines that you can adapt and build on as you pursue a meeting of the minds.

  1. Identify speakers with complementary businesses, similar career levels and shared values. The diversity of the group is a strength, and everyone should have something they can bring to the party in the way of expertise. Be careful that there is not too much disparity between experience levels, or the sharing of ideas may not be as relevant. Shared values underpin everything you do as a group.

  2. Determine a purpose. There are many different reasons why your mastermind might meet, ranging from lead sharing to being a support group or some mix of different elements. Be very clear on what you're trying to accomplish. The more specific you are, the more productive you'll be.

  3. Establish guidelines. Talk about meeting time, length and attendance, and address the soft issues around how you treat each other. Melanie Mills puts it well when she says, "Establish guidelines for how you operate with each other like not putting down other speakers, a solutions-orientation versus a problem-orientation, sharing time so nobody dominates, confidentiality, and mutual respect. This is probably the most important step as it creates the atmosphere for you to operate in. I would keep them simple but clear."

  4. Pick a leader. Whether this person holds the position forever or temporarily is less important than the need for someone who will coordinate schedules and meeting locations. Scott Friedman served unselfishly in this capacity for our group.

  5. If it stops working, try something different. Recently our group had to deal with some difficult issues around members moving out of state, time commitments and revised goals. After several years, the nature of the group has changed because what once worked was no longer effective. Don't be afraid to revisit your purposes and goals frequently to address if adjustments should be made.

Being part of a speaker mastermind has been an incredibly enriching experience, both personally and professionally, for all of us. Why not form one yourself and see if Napoleon Hill was right?

from Jan Carothers

My name is Jan Carothers and I have been in a weekly breakfast mastermind group for more than fourteen years. Through it my partners and I have gained and given support, ideas, accountability on all aspects of our lives - business, personal, physical and spiritual. We have been so successful in the longevity of our group, I have been asked several times to lead seminars for other groups on how to use the principles and to tailor them to individual group characteristics.

My group has gone from a basic three participants to as many as six, though I believe an optimum is 3-4 people. This way you have enough time, and there are still enough to meet effectively when any members are missing. As our businesses have grown we have found we have more conflicts from travel and commitments -- nonetheless, breakfast has proven best for us. The makeup of my group has always been business people, an engineering manager, an award winning photographer, an organizer, a management consultant, a small business owner, and myself who has been an executive recruiter and who changed careers to speaking and training twelve years ago.

During the course of the years we have sold houses, bought new houses, three of us have started and grown professional businesses, two have found their life mates and married, one got happily divorced, two have left their former employers and have found exceptional new positions, all have found their primary community interests and made significant contributions alongside their professional commitments.

We hold masterminding as a spiritual - not religious - endeavor as it definitely involves a recognition of a power greater than ourselves - the power of the Mastermind. Somewhat like a 12-step group - there is an element of surrender to the process.

Jack Boland (deceased), a Unity Minister from Warren, MI, distilled down MM principles (universal - but made famous by Napoleon Hill) into some very useful outlines and manuals/workbooks/calendars. These are still published in various formats by The Church of Today - Unity Church (in Warren MI; it's the Detroit area.) They can often be purchased in Unity and Religious Science, and other New Thought Bookstores throughout the country. It wouldn't surprise me if they didn't also sell them through Amazon.com.

Over all the years we have substantially adapted his guidelines - to a framework which works like a charm for us. Most important one has to clearly learn to be a partner/coach and not an advice giver. While MM groups do focus on goals, they are also a place to be known at a deeper level, they are places of "being" as much as "doing." So it becomes very important to have a group you can grow to trust. Together you must come to an understanding/agreement about the purpose of the group and how it will work. One must find people who are mature enough to commit over time and healthy enough not to suck energy (if you know what I mean.) Since this is deep work, but not therapy, you want people who basically see themselves as whole, (if not finished.) Otherwise a very "needy" person can upset the balance or serenity of the group. It has to be a solid foundation for people to come to their center.

Also, no matter how smart or successful are individual members of the group, they are not intended to be places in which partners impose or deliver solutions to the other members of the group. They are more like sounding boards. If a little problem-solving help is requested, fine. But it is not the main order of the day.

Masterminding as we do it is pragmatic and practical as well as conceptual, and as such we have racked up extraordinary results - in terms of fulfilled lives as well as exciting and productive careers.

from Sheryl Roush

I've participated in and lead Master Mind groups before. My experience includes both SPIRITUAL and CONVENTIONAL GOAL-SETTING. What types of tips are you looking for?

Begin with the OBJECTIVE of the MasterMind. For the spiritual group -- it starts off with prayer and alignment of purpose, and ends with spiritual intent, conviction and speaking out loud your goals... (there's more to this one!). A great Resource for this information: Unity Church.

For the conventional type of MasterMind - are traditionally for increasing business, networking, cross-coaching and standard goal-setting.

NSA/San Diego Chapter hosts a monthly "S.M.A.R.T." Brunch. There was a competition held to create what it stands for: Speakers Making A Real Transformation (courtesy of speaker Ken Sacher). Typically, 5-7 people attend -- and typically NOT the same people each month. This is open to Members and Affiliates ("apprentice" under the new NSA by-laws) Members.

Each brings:

  • something to share/GIVE to the group
  • a goal to ask for support in
  • an honest report of how they are doing/did on last month's goal


  • I distributed a Presentation Expense form for tracking every cost involved in giving a presentation. With tips on how to customize it for their type of programs.
  • Another speaker distributed her hot-off-the-press Demo Video, giving one to each person present! (Sarita Maybin)
  • Samples of Post Cards and One-Sheets - prior to print - colleagues offer supportive feedback
  • Leads for demo video duplication services, color business card printers

The networking brings great value: "Who do you know who...?" (this question generates more leads)


  • More effective marketing materials
  • Greater bonding, network and personal support
  • Creating speaker business defining statements, slogans, business names...
  • Those members are connecting frequently between the meetings, more e-mail communications and welcomed quick phone calls...


  • Hold the group size to 5-7 people if possible.
  • Rotate facilitation -- each month has a new leader/note-taker for accountability.
  • Each person gets 15-minutes to do what they will with it.
  • Each person must state a goal they will have accomplished by the next month's meeting.
  • Distribute notes/highlights from the meeting to those not in attendance, but who are committed members of this group.
  • If this is an NSA event, put your Chapter President on the e-mail highlight lists -- whether or not the Pres. can attend.

We meet at a Coco's Restaurant (sim. to Denny's) from 9:00-10:30am in the same booth -- a round table with chairs -- to support brainstorming. Each person orders breakfast or drink -- we supplement the tip for time at the table. One a month. On a Monday - great way to start the week!

from Ed Rigsbee

This is an article that ran in Professional Speaker a couple years ago.

Relationships That Work; How You Can Apply the Partnering Paradigm to Further Your Speaking Career

By Edwin Richard Rigsbee

John F. Kennedy said, "Lofty words cannot construct an alliance or maintain it; only concrete deeds do that." Partnering is a term currently being used as 90s buzzword--as is the word alliance. Both activities rely heavily on relationships. Relationships are the corner stone of any successful business. More people in business today should make the smart decision and make daily Relationship Bank Deposits, the concrete deeds Kennedy spoke of in 1963.

These deposits are necessary to build a powerful relationship foundation. Partnering in any business, and especially in the speaking business, must be more than an activity. Partnering must also be a mind set for smart working to build success in the meetings industry where the lion's share of our income is derived.

Most of my adult life, people close to me have recommended that I should work harder or have suggested I work smarter. My choice is to work smarter. As we all know, the speaking business is hard work. As such, each of us should continually be seeking additional solutions to our business challenges. Partnering with others to create alliances for various reasons is my answer to the idea of working smarter. First on my list is the Master Mind Alliance of speakers. This is where partnering, the process of two or more entities coming together for the purpose of developing synergistic solutions to their challenges, really comes alive.

Currently, there are several groups of NSA members meeting in some form of this alliance relationship: Speakers Roundtable, The Platform Professionals, Gold Coals Speakers Alliance and several more -- each having their own unique take on how to make these alliances work.

In a recent article I wrote for the NSA Bureau PEG Newsletter, I offered five core values necessary for all who select partnering as their smart working choice: trust, tolerance/understanding, cooperation/growth, caring/commitment, and synergy/mutuality.

In selecting speakers to invite into your Master Mind Alliance, keep these core values in mind. Use these as your guide when making your selections.

Too often I've heard people talking "marriage" but really "acting one night stand." This behavior is what I refer to as cotton candy partnering. Like cotton candy, it looks good and tastes great but disappears in seconds -- definitely not concrete deeds. In contrast, integrity partnering is that which allows synergistic solutions -- the concrete deeds.

An important reason to for speakers to develop Master Mind Alliances is for Synergistic Energy. This is the very positive energy that allows each of us to achieve more than if left alone. There are two sides to this energy: First, when working with other speakers, you must remember that you are still responsible for your own success. You can fall into the trap of doing what your Master Mind group collectively things you should do rather than listening to your own intuition. Remember, in the end -- you are the CEO of your business so you must make the final decisions and live with your choices.

Use the group as a sounding board, for ideas you might have missed, to uncover unnoticed pitfalls to your plan and various other synergistic they can offer you value. In the group of which I am a member, we spent an entire year dedicating each meeting to individual members for dealing with their specific issues. Wow! It was powerful to have several speakers focus their energy and attention to a single member's issues. Giving energy can be as powerful as receiving it.

To make this kind of alliance relationship valuable for all involved, the giving or Relationship Bank deposits must be frequent. Additionally, all the members of the alliance must be committed to the alliance itself. When this happens the alliance becomes a living entity and begins to evolve in it's own direction -- seems odd yet I've found it to be true.

Below, I'll share with you some qualities I've identified (from "The Art of Partnering") to look for in alliance partners. If you keep these qualities in mind when selecting with whom to build your Master Mind Alliance, your chances for success is increased:

  1. Wants to win. No reason to partner with a loser, the relationship will only bring you, your association or company down to an unacceptable level. You must have a desire to win, to want to do better, to be useful in creating synergy with your partner.

  2. Knows he/she is ultimately responsible for their own success. Will partner because he/she understands the value of synergy and knows when partnering is, and is not the best choice for success. Caveat Pars (Beware of Partner)! Accountability goes both ways. Assume not that your partner is looking out for your best interest. You are human, and as such, will not always be acting in your partner's best interest.

  3. Is an active listener. To truly keep in touch with the heartbeat of an alliance, active listening is critical. This helps you to know what you need to do extra and when the other side is falling behind in their commitment to you. Alertness from both sides equals mutual success.

  4. Understands and cares about what drives his/her partners' businesses. Because successful partnering is about synergy, you must consistently give added-value to the relationship (regular relationship bank deposits). The only way to add value in an alliance relationship is to know what your partner considers valuable.

  5. Responds well to, and acts on feedback. "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen!" The only possibility for a forward and beneficial movement happens when leaders are willing to accept counsel. Not one of us is smart enough to know it all! If so, there would not be a need for partnering. Notice I did not mention criticism -- it was intentional!

  6. Flexible, especially when events or circumstances are not what was expected. If you don't have the ability to change direction when the road ahead is washed out, you'll most likely find yourself wishing for rescuers. You'll do this as you uncontrollably float down the stream. Flexibility is absolutely necessary because things will never be exactly as we expect.

  7. Trusting and with integrity - respects all with whom he/she comes in contact. Through interviewing scores of companies, I found this to be the common thread weaving through all the employees from the factory floor to the executive suite.

  8. Seeks win-win arrangements and solutions. Earlier I said that you must look after yourself, but if that is all you do, you're of little value to your partner. You must win for the sake of your own business. And at the same time your partner must also win. This will cultivate a desire forthem to continue in the relationship. The partnering advantage becomes stronger the longer the relationship lasts.

  9. Understands that partnering is a relationship of interdependence. Notice that I did not say dependence or independence? Visualize your partner and yourself as partially overlapping circles. The overlapping area is that of mutual value. The greater the overlap, the greater the value. This overlapping area is also your area of interdependence. Working together for mutual improvement is the great benefit received from partnering.

Inherent in the process, building Master Mind Alliances has benefits and pitfalls. The benefits of alliance relationships usually outweigh the pitfalls. If of course, you're careful and methodical in the search for Master Mind alliance partners and in the elements of which the alliance will operate.

Remember Caveat Pars (Partners Beware), as the road to successful alliance partnering can be filled with land mines and quicksand pits. Knowing how to select the right alliance partners and making good selections is truly a concrete deed, of which Kennedy spoke.

No matter your level of success in our business -- Master Speaker, building your speaking business, or beginner -- you will profit from being part of a Master Mind Alliance.

from Joanne Schlosser

We started a speaker/trainer/consultant Master Mind group 3 years ago and it has been a tremendous help to us all. We meet monthly and follow a loose agenda of sharing our recent successes, asking for help in a specific area and offering any general tips we've learned that month. We also allow schmooze time.

In addition to helping enhance the success of our businesses, it has enhanced our friendships and several of us have referred business to one another or partnered on projects together. If you want more info, I've written about how to start a group in Bright Ideas for a Better Life, and I would be happy to email you the relevant pages.

from Lisa Marie Nelson

I've been involved with a MasterMind group for almost 2 years now... the same 5 women meet Mondays from 7-8 pm. We got all our materials from our church (Religious Science) and we changed some of the wording to fit the way that we wanted to make our declarations or affirmations.

What we have learned so far: It works best to focus on goals and not to get into "telling stories", keep to the time limit, always end on a positive, upbeat note, make the group a real commitment (don't blow off the apppointment).

This has been a very positive experience for all of us. We have had other people want to join our group, but we choose to keep it to 5 and none of us has wanted to drop out yet. We are all very supportive of one another and look forward to the time we spend together. It has been extremely empowering!

from Tom Terrific

If you haven't already, read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. His was one of the first Juntos. I prefer this term to Mastermind.

I don't use my Junto for business, but for personal goal setting. We only meet 3 or 4 times a year, but it keeps forcing me to stay in touch with my goals.

Here's some more information from my book....


One of the games which trainers use to teach teamwork is to give a puzzle to a group. Initially, each person has to work separately in coming up with the answer. When the time is up, the trainer asks for a show of hands on how many people solved the entire puzzle. Usually, no one raises their hand. The puzzle is too tough. Some people have figured out part A, some people have figured out another section, but no one person solves the entire puzzle. Then the trainer allows the entire group to work on the puzzle together. The group starts talking, exchanging ideas, sharing theories and before you know it, the puzzle is solved.

This basically is the idea behind the Junto. A group of people working together, thinking and sharing ideas. The group can help you see solutions and possibilities you may have never thought of before. The group can also be supportive, caring and encouraging of your individual goals.

The name Junto comes from Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography, he says, "I had formed most of my ingenious (clever) acquaintances into a club for mutual improvement. Our club, the Junto, was found so useful and afforded such satisfaction to the members, that several were desirous of introducing their friends." His Junto helped start the first library system in the United States. He also presented a paper to the Junto on the necessity of starting a fire company to handle the fires in the community. From this start in the Junto, one of the first volunteer fire companies in America was established.

One of the interesting "laws" of Benjamin Franklin's Junto was that members were "forbid the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc." One of the tenets of the club is "you don't know it all" and that you can see more clearly by using the eyes, ears and minds of many people.

There are a number of stories that illustrate how important it is to be open to the ideas of others. One story says that the search for truth is like standing at a nine-foot high, solid wooden fence. It's too long to get around and too high to climb, so our only option is to find some little knothole in the fence, poke our eyeball in and see what we can see. Now on the other side of the fence is a COW. Some people look through the hole and see a horn and they say, "Ah, the horn is the truth." Others look through and see the beautiful brown skin and say, "Ah . . . Brown must be truth." Then others look through and see the tail swishing back and forth and are convinced that the ever-moving tail is the way. While they all see part of the picture, no one person can see it all. Benjamin Franklin tells a similar story. He says, it's like a man traveling in foggy weather. Those at a distance, he sees wrapped up in the fog, as well as those behind him and also the people in the fields on each side are enveloped by the fog also. But near him all appears clear, though in truth he is as much in the fog as any of them.

To be wise, you need to be aware that you too are in the fog, that there are many options, many truths out there and the more knotholes we can see through, the more eyes we can see with, the more people we can listen to, then the wiser we become.

The Junto idea has even been taken up by a couple of the top speakers and leaders in America.

  • Tom Peters, the current management guru, in his book In Search of Excellence uses the term "skunk works" to describe essentially the same idea. A small group of people gets together to work on a project and the results are usually greater than the sum of the parts.
  • Zig Ziglar has an appropriate saying. He says, "You can get everything in life you want, if you'll just help enough other people get what they want." By working together with others you can accomplish much more.
  • Pat Riley, an NBA coach, says, "Teamwork is the essence of life. Great teamwork is the only way to reach our ultimate moments, to create the breakthroughs that define our careers, to fulfill our lives with a sense of lasting significance."

It's interesting that the word Junto has evolved into the word Junta.

Junta is defined as a group of people who have taken power. In a sense, that's what a Junto is. It's a group of people who have decided to take control of their lives and have taken power back to themselves.

Here's how one of our typical meetings is run. We usually get together for dinner at someone's house. We try to make it a social occasion as well as a meeting. After dinner we sit around the table and, one-by-one we take turns talking about what's happened in the last month or so, what we're working on and what challenges we have in the future. Other members are free to jump in with support and positive ideas for the person who's talking. No criticism is allowed. In one meeting, I asked for some advice on how to handle a sensitive issue. One of our members had been through the experience twice and shared her insight. One person was questioning his ability to handle a new project. We all gave him our support and encouragement. Another person wanted to know how to handle a particular situation. We all shared our thoughts. It's a very positive, loving experience.

Here's How to Get Started

  • Start with a small group . . . 4 to 6 people whom you respect.
  • Everyone invited to join the group must be absolutely trustworthy; a person of unquestionable integrity.
  • Meet once every month or so, usually for two hours.
  • Start the first meeting with a discussion of goals. What does each person want to accomplish? How can we help each other? Goals should be written down.
  • Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can write down your successes, failures and things you've learned. Then share those with the group at your next meeting.
  • Use the group to help you think smarter, brainstorm ideas, solve problems, encourage creativity and support your efforts.

Hillary Clinton once said, "No one ever became a success without the help of other people." I believe it. You need others to help and support you. The Junto is a great way to get that support.

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