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What Is a Mastermind Group?

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years of experience in marketing/sales, including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.

Are Mastermind Groups the Consulting Flavor of the Day?

Are Mastermind Groups the Consulting Flavor of the Day?

Are Mastermind Groups the Consulting Flavor of the Day?

When automation and economic pressure collapsed many corporate organizations, talented and experienced employees and managers suddenly found themselves adrift. How could they leverage their talent, experience, and skill into a future income? Rather than retraining or simply seeking a similar job, some of these out of work pros turned to providing their expertise on the open market as independent consultants.

In the 1990s, it became a standing joke that if you called yourself a "consultant," it meant you were out of work. In the 2000s, the title of "consultant" was becoming passé and some now started calling themselves "coaches." In many cases, it was the same service as consulting, whether offered to businesses or individuals.

In the 2010s, consultants started realizing that one-to-one coaching (or consulting) takes a lot of work and time. Plus, potential clients, still reeling from the Great Recession, were not able to afford their services. So as the decade wore on, "group coaching" became the thing to do. In this consulting scenario, training, advice, or counseling is offered to a group of people, either in person or virtually. This allowed consultants to offer their services to a wider audience at a lower cost to both themselves and the group.

But even group coaching can be a huge drain on a self-employed consultant (oops, coach). Enter the "mastermind group" as today's consulting flavor of the day. It's even spawned a new verb: Masterminding.

Origins of the Mastermind Group

In his classic book (one of the best selling books of all time), Think and Grow Rich, author Napoleon Hill defined a "Master Mind" group as a collection of "men" (it was the 1930s) who assembled to provide wholehearted support and advice to each other for accumulation of wealth. This gathering of minds and energy would also create a collective third mind, which mental/spiritual energy could benefit all.

One thing that Hill emphasized was that something must be returned to members of the group in exchange for their cooperation. With the two times a week (or more often if needed) meetings he suggested, they better get something!

What is Referred to as a Mastermind Group Today?

While Napoleon Hill's Master Mind model has often been cited as the inspiration for today's mastermind trend, it really differs quite dramatically.

What's frequently referred to today as mastermind groups are simply programs led by a coach or consultant who gathers together customer members into a face-to-face or virtual group to "mastermind" (used as a verb) on particular issues or topics. Like the "consultants" who morphed into "coaches," these groups can often be "group coaching" programs with a new name.

But here's another twist observed of late. The coaching leader may start discussions, host events for members, or facilitate relationship building. But the hope is that the group members will create and build relationships among themselves. While that could be more in line with Hill's Master Mind model, the relationships can be random and circumstantial.

So today's mastermind groups differ from the Napoleon Hill "Master Mind" model in that:

  1. Today's groups may, or may not, be gathered for the accumulation of wealth or even a collective purpose.
  2. There may be little or nothing specific offered to individual members as a reward for cooperation and participation. In fact, members are often paying to play.
  3. They have a more top-down, less collegial and organic, structure with a coach leader at the helm.

Brainstorming or Masterminding?

Another observation is that much of what passes as "masterminding" these days is actually "brainstorming."

Here's what happens. Someone in the mastermind group may have an issue for which he or she would like input. The issue is presented to the group and then the group members offer ideas or insights for a specified period of time. Though I've seen some discussion of each person's contribution happen in these scenarios, it's usually very limited due to the time allotted for each issue or person. That's brainstorming.

Again, something that's been going on for a long time, just with a new name.

Today's Mastermind Groups: The Pros

Make New Business Connections. Since the coach leader may have wide and varied contacts that join these groups, members could make new business connections they might not have otherwise.

Get Insight Into Concerns from Others. One of the reasons people hire coaches individually or go into group coaching is to gain insight into concerns. Mastermind member forums can be a safe (though not confidential!) zone for members to get feedback and help, all for just the price of membership. As well, these groups are usually limited to a small number of members to increase the comfort and interaction level.

Today's Mastermind Groups: The Cons

Efficient, But Maybe Not Effective. Other than organizing, promoting, and managing the group (often done via Facebook Groups), the new mastermind model can be more efficient and profitable for the coach leader than other coaching or consulting models. However, if the coach leader's takes a more hands-off approach, some members may feel disengaged and disenchanted.

No Choice of Members. Unlike the Master Mind model proposed by Napoleon Hill, today's groups are not deliberately selected. They are more self-selective in that the coach leader's customer members opt in (and often pay) to participate. Are all these self-selected members a good fit for each other? While the coach leader may have a hand in assigning or accepting members to groups, the individual member is at the whim of the market and the coach leader's choices when it comes to the group's composition.

The Liabilities. Who's responsible for the advice given and taken within the framework of a mastermind group? The coach leader? The members? Say that a member gets some disastrous advice that causes a loss to their business. Who pays? In a more formal consulting/coaching arrangement, a contract is usually drawn up that details responsibilities. But this group setting may present additional legal challenges. Mastermind leaders would be well advised to consult both a business attorney and a commercial liability insurance provider to determine what coverages and preventive measures should be instituted to protect both the leader and members.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 12, 2017:

Hi Blond!

I didn't even think of the "firing" situation for mastermind members! That would be a very tricky for the coach leader, especially since that person may have paid to be a part of the group. And what do you tell the other members when that happens?

Indeed, many of the coaches I know have tremendous networks which would be the only reason I'd ever consider joining a group like this. And I'm personally aware how isolating a solopreneur business can be. So I do seek out networking occasionally to get out of my "silo." Plus, those events and meetings often provide great inspiration for writing about business.

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Yep, consultants definitely reinvented themselves to become more marketable. I wonder what the next self-proclaimed title will be? :)

Thanks, as always, for adding great insight to the conversation! Have a lovely weekend!

Mary Wickison from USA on August 11, 2017:

I was aware of the mastermind group through Hill's book, however, I wasn't aware that consultants (coaches) were using this technique.

I can see both benefits and negatives to this idea. Hill basically said, if someone wasn't a good fit, get rid of them. I think that would be difficult if it was organized by someone else.

On the up side, a coach may have a wider network of people to draw on. I do think a combination of networking and brainstorming can help many businesses and business owners. Running a business can be insular, and sometimes fresh eyes can easily see a better way forward.

I didn't realize that consultants were seen as those who were out of work. At least they keep reinventing themselves.

As always an interesting article.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 11, 2017:

Flourish, I'm just so tired of the never-ending redefinition of the same old stuff... which is what prompted this. Caveat emptor is as wise advice today as it was when it was coined in ancient times. Thanks for reading and commenting. Happy Weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 10, 2017:

Thanks for informing us about this practice, Heidi. I'd be wary of it for the reason you mention.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 10, 2017:

Aren't we all, billybuc! :) I'm working on marketing some new online courses I've developed, plus some client work. So I have a bunch of half-done posts just waiting to get done here on HP. Oh well... such is the life of a writer. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and you have a great weekend, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 10, 2017:

Always interesting, Heidi.

I am always trying to find the balance between the creative process, which takes so long, and the marketing process, which never seems to get the time it deserves. :) I wonder why that is? LOL Have a great weekend!

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