6 Rules for an Effective Mastermind Group

I want to take the mystery out of what a mastermind group is, and more importantly, six rules that will help you have a positive mastermind experience.

If you are not exactly sure what a mastermind group is and what they do, don’t feel bad.

I think the term is misleading.

Contrary to what “insiders” believe, a lot of people are not familiar with the fact that “mastermind group” was coined by Napoleon Hill in the 1920’s as: the coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.

The first time someone told me they were in a mastermind group, I wasn’t sure what they meant. The only thing I could imagine was a group of people gathered around an evil genius concocting schemes to rule the world.

The funny thing is that you have probably been a part of a mastermind group and didn’t even know it. Click To Tweet

It is an extremely effective practice that has been around for centuries, and it’s almost universally practiced among countless entrepreneurs, writers, consultants, artists, athletes, bloggers, real estate agents, financial planners, photographers, philosophers, scientists, etc.

A Simple Definition of a Mastermind Group

A Google search will get you a collection of definitions for mastermind group, but a lot of them are still too haughty and structured in my opinion.

I have been in different groups over the years, some of which were called a mastermind group and some weren’t called anything, but they had the same effect.

Here’s my definition:

mastermind group — a group of people that are trying to get better at the same thing and meet regularly

It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you surround yourself with like-minded individuals. When I look back at every significant accomplishment in my life, I had surrounded myself with like-minded people.

Here’s What You Get When You Are Part of a Group

I made a list of the positive benefits I had realized and came up with this list. (What else would you add?)

  • Everyone’s performance improved
  • We benefited from each other’s strengths
  • Higher confidence – if someone could do something, so could I
  • Kept each other from slacking off or quitting
  • We had more intensity toward our goals
  • I got new ideas
  • Others pointed out the mistakes I couldn’t see
  • I tried more things
  • The bar kept raising
  • Company makes misery bearable (if misery loves company)
  • Had more fun
  • Got to share victories
  • Made lifetime friends

Should You Be In a Mastermind Right Now?

By now you know that you have probably been a part of numerous mastermind groups throughout your life even if you didn’t call it that. Maybe it was a study group, a running club, a group of practice buddies, any athletic team, or a breakfast club.

Are you in a group that can help your business performance? Should you be?

I recently realized I had neglected this essential tool for performance improvement since launching my business over four years ago. I can point to two main reasons, and if you have neglected the mastermind practice, I bet your reasons are similar.

The first reason is the lack of time. This is a misconception that I talk about in Rule No. 6. We really do have time.

The second reason for not seeking out a group of people to buddy-up with is tricky, because it is masked by your positive traits.

You are resourceful. You have initiative, confidence, moxie, mettle and wherewithal. You have gumption.

The danger lurking behind gumption is over-confidence. Click To Tweet

I have noticed that the higher a person climbs on the organizational ladder, the harder it is to recognize the need for a mastermind group. Business leaders experience different challenges than their team, making it harder to find someone to push them to improve their performance.

If you are not part of a mastermind group, you need to find a group of people that are trying to get better at the same thing as you.

6 Rules for an Effective Mastermind Group

I’ve been a part of groups that helped me to accomplish more than I could have done on my own in a faster time, and I have been a part of groups that disintegrated before they even started.

I have also been a part of groups in which I had great friendships, but performance didn’t improve. Not all groups work, but those that work best have followed these six rules.

Rule No. 1 – Mastermind Groups Work Best When Everyone is Focused on Improving the Same Skill

There could be some debate about this first rule, but for me I’ve found that…

The greatest improvements in performance happen when skill improvement is the centerpiece of the group. Click To Tweet

The other path that is almost the same but not as effective is when everyone is in similar circumstances, but there is no focus on a skill. This chart contrasts the subtle but important differences between a “general focus” vs a “skills focus.”

Mastermind Comparison

It’s not that mastermind groups that have a general focus don’t have benefits, it’s that you can realize more improvements faster when a specific skill is the centerpiece of the group.

A skill is simply the ability to do something well. You are not born with it. It is not a personality trait and has nothing to do with being an introvert or extravert. You don’t magically acquire it just because you decide you want it, and you can’t visualize it into existence. It can be learned, and it must be practiced.

What skill do you need to improve?

If you want to improve quickly, find a group of people who want to improve the same skill and start hanging out together.

Rule No. 2  – Mastermind Groups Work Best When People Can Dedicate Equal Amounts of Time

One of the things that makes building a mastermind group difficult is time constraints faced by each member of the group, and it can get frustrating when there is continuous difficulty syncing schedules.

I have found people with the same amount of passion and determination as me, but we were unable to dedicate equal amounts of time.

There were times when I was the one with limited time because I didn’t want to leave the family for many hours on the weekend. After my kids were older, I was in a group with members who had younger children, so I had more time than them.

It is not a question of determination and desire, it’s a matter of life stage and priorities. Still, people tend to make internal judgments about each other when they approach the same goal with different intensity.

For example, parents (it used to always be moms, but more dads are starting to experience this) in a corporate office and who have young kids may need to leave at the same time everyday to pick their children up from daycare. People who don’t have kids and can stay at the office later make micro-judgements about their teammates.

I was talking to a friend the other day and I love this analogy. He said it’s like driving down the interstate.

The people going slower than you are idiots, and the ones going faster than you are lunatics.

In the long run, it’s best to align yourself with people who can dedicate equal amounts of time to the group.

Rule No. 3 – The Most Effective Mastermind Groups Talk Less and Practice More

One thing to look out for in addition to the time available, is how you spend the time.

The word that applies best is intensity, and you need to make sure the members of your group have equal levels of intensity.

One of the most powerful mastermind alliances I ever had was when I was preparing to ride for the United States team in a six day long off-road motorcycle race in Finland.

Training for this race was unlike any kind of training I had ever done. Most off-road motorcycle races are one day events that last between two and four hours. This race was six days long for ten hours per day.

Since the race was in late August, I had to train all summer by riding from dawn to dusk in the Texas heat. There were plenty of 100 degree days.

There was no one crazy enough or willing to ride with me at such extreme levels except one riding buddy, Al Cravens.

We have always had a friendly rivalry even though we are great friends. Al’s dedication to ride with me without the reward of riding for team USA has always struck me as insanity. But he was there for every mile that summer, and could have easily ridden for team USA.

He’s never told me why he subjected himself to the pain and misery, but I suspect it was something as simple as, “If you can do it, so can I.”

The time spent in effective mastermind groups is not about group therapy and care-bear hugs. Click To Tweet

It’s about iron sharpening iron.

When I look back at my life’s accomplishments and the times I was able to significantly improve my performance, it had far less to do with hand-clapping than it did with intense, friendly competition.

Rule No. 4 –  Mastermind Groups Work Best When Everyone is Experiencing the Same Pains

Research shows that pain is a social glue, and if you’ve ever shared a similar pain with others then you understand the effect.

When my wife went through nursing school, she had a group of friends that were on the same journey, and I don’t think she would have made it without them. They studied, wrote reports, complained, commiserated, cried and celebrated together.

They lost sleep, missed social events, sacrificed family time, quit shaving their legs and even missed an occasional bath.

The abundance of work they had to complete on a weekly basis was unbelievable. The workload caused pain in the form of fear and uncertainty, and those two can paralyze anyone.

Somehow by sharing that pain, they kept each other going. When one person felt like slacking off, the others prodded them into opening the books.

Once nursing school was over, everyone went on to nursing jobs and they rarely see each other anymore, but they will always have a connection.

Sharing your pain with others in the same position helps you keep moving.

Rule No. 5 – Everyone in the Group Needs to Be Near the Same Skill Level

It’s not enough to find people who are going the same direction and experiencing similar pains. You have to connect with people who are close to the same skill level.

People at different skill levels see obstacles differently.

Athletes rise or fall to the level of competition they surround themselves with. In motorcycle racing if you practice with equal or faster riders, you get faster. If you always ride with slower riders, you lose speed.

It’s not just motorcycle racing, though. I am a terrible golfer with a maximum handicap. I use to play golf with a very nice fellow who was a walk-on for the University of Alabama and had a handicap of +2.

Every time we played a round his game suffered. He’d miss simple putts and hit the rough almost as much as me.

In the business world, a new leader may struggle with the constant demand for their time, whereas an experienced leader has learned how to manage the distractions.

The goal within a practice group is to get better, and you need the members to be at the same level.

Rule No. 6 – Everyone Shows up Because They Feel Like They’ll Get Left Behind if They Don’t

The final rule is used to measure the effectiveness of your mastermind group. Get this right and you won’t have to bother with stupid attendance rules.

It’s a barometer that lets you know if there is a benefit from the time you’re investing, and it boils down to one question:

Was I challenged?

Did you have to concentrate to keep up? Was there debate about your ideas? Did you have to ask questions?

No matter whether it’s a mastermind group for your business, a nursing study group or a motorcycle racer’s practice group, you are more likely to improve when you are significantly challenged.   

My wife often lamented missing an evening with the family in order to meet with her study group, but she knew that if she missed a session there was a good chance the material covered by the group would show up on the next exam.

I was a part of a mastermind group of business owners who were building their website at the same time as me, and I remember leaving every meeting with something new to implement or an answer to a troubling technical issue. 

I didn’t want to miss, and it wasn’t a chore.

Remember, we’re not talking about the quality of our social time, we are talking about maximizing time spent in mastermind session.


Mastermind groups can take many forms and be called any number of things. One of the best ways to find a group is to consider a paid mastermind. These groups are like watering holes on the plains of Africa and attract like-minded people with equal intensity.

The last thing any of us can afford is to spend our time unwisely, and if you follow these six rules you’ll accomplish more than you imagined and more quickly with a mastermind group than without one.

Rule No. 1 – Mastermind Groups Work Best When Everyone is Focused on Improving the Same Skill

Rule No. 2  – Mastermind Groups Works Best When People Can Dedicate Equal Amounts of Time

Rule No. 3 – The Most Effective Mastermind Groups Talk Less and Practice More

Rule No. 4 –  Mastermind Groups Work Best When Everyone is Experiencing the Same Pains

Rule No. 5 – Everyone in the Mastermind Group Needs to Be Near the Same Skill Level

Rule No. 6 – Everyone Shows up Because They Feel Like They’ll Get Left Behind if They Don’t

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