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Suzanne Bowness

A Little Help From My Friends: Starting a Mastermind Group

Illustration of five people in a lively discussion while looking at computers and documents
Illustration of five people in a lively discussion while looking at computers and documents
Copyright: sodis

Are you a senior-level freelancer looking to connect with same-level colleagues for advice? Or a junior in-house editor looking for pals for support on the journey up the career ladder? Wherever you are in your career, creating a “mastermind group” of fellow professionals to meet and talk shop with regularly can be a great way to find practical and emotional support. I presented “How to Create a Peer Mastermind” at the Editors 21: Editors Transform conference in June, based on my own experience with my mastermind group. Here’s a recap of my presentation plus questions that came up in the process.

Why start a mastermind group?

Creating and developing an informal professional group of colleagues can help to develop a safe space in which to share frustrations as well as wins with colleagues who are in similar fields. Mastermind groups can provide more tailored advice and accountability: they are smaller than most networking events and have a consistent group of attendees, so there’s continuity and trust.

You also grow your confidence as you confirm your approach to business and work or get insights from others. You may want to start a mastermind group to focus on a particular goal, such as career accountability or sharpening skills. Or you may start a group to share resources.

How to find members

Finding a group of people with similar seniority, work styles (in-house or freelance), and ambition will mean that you’ll have a lot of common goals. Remember, you are building a circle of trust, so start smaller. Begin with colleagues you are already familiar with (I suggest four to five people), and then grow. Set a maximum size for your group to allow meetings to work within the meeting time: try 10 members as a good maximum.

A common question that came up in the session was, how do you find people to ask to join your mastermind? You might connect through professional associations or events. Or, volunteering for your professional association can be a good way to get to know people on a deeper level. (I met my first mastermind colleagues as a volunteer.) You may also find people you click with in other places who could be good mastermind candidates. Once you’ve started your group, it’s good practice to run potential new members by the collective before extending invitations to join.

How to organize and sustain your group

Together, decide on a regular meeting time and format. Other decisions to make include how formal you want to be, whether you will use an agenda, when and where you will meet, and how often you will meet. I like a monthly meeting, a loose agenda, a clear start and end time, and social time at the start for personal catch-up. I also find that it’s helpful to set up an interim platform for connection between meetings, such as a Facebook group or an email chain. All of these decisions may lead to a sample structure to start, and then you can revisit the format in six months.

Here’s a sample agenda for your first meeting:

  • Regular check-in or update: what are you working on?
  • Problem clients or problem-solving discussion: what do you need help with?
  • Big topic brainstorming (e.g., finances, tech, estimating).

How to be a good group member

Active listening is key for a mastermind group, as this can be a vulnerable space for sharing. Listen carefully and ask questions, pay attention to any emotions and acknowledge difficult situations. I like to give constructive feedback on members’ workplace issues using the “feedback sandwich” method, with positive comments as the bun and constructive comments as the meat of the sandwich. I also like concrete advice: for example, not “show empathy to your difficult co-worker” but instead “ask your co-worker out for coffee.”

If starting a mastermind group seems daunting, remember, you can start with just two people — you and your workplace or freelance bestie exchanging advice — and then decide to grow your group if you want. The rules are up to you, and within a short time you’ll be the one to realize the benefits.

Sue has already heard back from a couple of conference attendees who are starting their own mastermind groups! Registered conference attendees can continue to access her conference session by logging in to the virtual event website until Sept. 30, 2021.


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