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People struggle to understand the amazing value that group coaching can provide for their growth. They often expect that the experience will primarily “teach them something useful.” This is likely based on classes, workshops, and years of schooling which emphasized a teacher/student model.

But great group coaching can be so much more valuable!

This is where it’s useful to leverage techniques often labelled as a “Mastermind group.” Many may not be familiar with this term either, but even the name evokes an image focused more on expertise sharing and developing soft skills.

Essence of the model

Building on the Mastermind concept, I like to construct a group coaching program where each participant is learning, supporting, and helping everyone else. Each group session is structured:

  1. Reporting progress since the previous session
  2. Group work on the members’ issues
  3. Each individual setting goals for the coming weeks

As organizer and facilitator, my role is to take care of housekeeping details, and ensure everyone is engaged, authentic, respectful, and helpful.

I set up a group with clear ground rules:

  • Confidentiality: what’s said here stays here.
  • Helpfulness: the purpose is for this group to help you, so you must help others.
  • Involvement: everybody contributes

I’ll have a behind-the-scenes conversation with anyone who appears to be bending these rules. Mistakes are usually unintentional, where gentle feedback suffices to get the person back on track.

When forming a group, I’m also looking for diversity which will support varied perspectives. Of course, that depends on the overall purpose of the group and how participants get selected. The most useful engagement is when each participant enthusiastically opted in because they are convinced it will be valuable for them.

Accountability

The opening and closing sections of the Mastermind session are clearly meant to build accountability for each person making progress. After all, the most useful work is done between sessions, where they have a chance to actually apply the new information to their personal situation.

It’s crucial that each member of the group sets their own goals based on the insights they’ve gained during the session. It’s not an assignment from a teacher, so my prompting questions are crucial:

  • “What insights or conclusions have you come to today?”
  • “What are you taking away and doing before our next session?”
  • “What support will you need to keep you on track?”

Once the group gets going, I usually just have to call attention to the next person on the list – or let them volunteer to be next – and get them started. This simple process combines appreciation for the work done, projecting forward in time, and deciding how much to commit to.

I find that goals declared by the client are much more powerful than an assignment given by someone else.

At the beginning of the next session, I’ll ask each person to give their “one minute progress report” which closes the accountability loop. Notice that it’s more powerful to declare goals and progress to a group than to just a coach, which means that actions are more likely to be taken.

Group Work

The largest portion of time in this Mastermind session is focused on members’ issues. As facilitator, I may kick off the initial session – or even multiple sessions – with a “topic.” Again, it’s not about teaching content. The purpose is to help the group focus on a certain area if that supports the group’s overall purpose.

The more impactful conversations, though, come from one of the members deciding that they would value the help of the group in some way. A day or two before the session, I’ll ask them all to consider if they have a topic which would be useful to work on.

I’ve found that often people eagerly launch into describing all the aspects and history of whatever issue they’re focused on. I’ll quickly stop them and ask them this key question: “What help would be useful from this time today?” I’m looking for a statement like:

  • “I’d like some feedback on my approach.”
  • “I’m looking for ideas and perspectives.”
  • “I’d like to role-play a difficult conversation I need to have.”
  • “I want the group to help me get really clear.”
  • “I want to be pushed out of my comfort zone!”

With this grounding, the speaker will become more focused, and everyone else will get clear on how they could be most helpful. Then, as the speaker starts describing the situation, interactions will produce more of the desired results.

I like to keep these conversations to about 10-15 minutes apiece, but it really does depend on the goals of the group. Primarily I want to get things moving in a useful direction; rarely are issues fully resolved in the session itself. That’s the work each person should declare as their take-aways and actions at the end. Often I’ll help wrap-up this group conversation by asking the initiator whether they have what they need to move forward.

Frequent Questions

How many sessions are useful for a group? It depends on the overall goals of the group, but I’d say that it takes a minimum of four sessions for people to really get in the groove. After that, groups could find this to be useful indefinitely, even for years.

How often should the group meet? I find this similar to 1-1 coaching, where participants need to have enough time to get useful work done between the sessions. You also need to be sensitive to whether this feels like “additional work” to the participants, versus helping them make progress which is useful and valued.

How many people are in a group? I find that the best size is between about 5 and 12. Smaller groups can be disrupted when someone has to miss a meeting. And larger groups create a situation where members feel like they didn’t get enough time to work on an important issue. I encourage membership to be stable, as it always takes considerable time for a new person to become a trusted member.

How long is a Mastermind session? I like having sessions between an hour or two, but I’ve seen successful models which stretch across half a day or even multiple days. With more time, you can go much deeper, and every person can have the chance to do significant work on the issues most in their way.

Will people pay for this? The bottom line is that people will be motivated to engage when they see that the purpose of the group aligns well with where they need help, and they believe that the structure will make a tangible impact on meeting their goals. These are the key points to emphasize when proposing this kind of model to individuals, teams, and organizations.

The Group’s Purpose

I’ve mentioned the purpose of the group several times, but haven’t actually said what that is. That’s because it depends on what you want to set up, and how you desire to engage participants.

You might identify a purpose based upon a common need that you see. In this case, you define it up front, then work to attract people who are motivated to work on that area.

The alternative is to identify the group first, perhaps just “people who want to develop their leadership skills.” Then you let the individuals define what that means, even doing work between sessions like reading a book together or viewing online content.

In either case, though, it’s that purpose which will compel members to become engaged and receive tremendous value. They’ll learn together, support each other, and develop a level of trust which is so rare in the 21st century.


This article was first published in International Coaching News, 30th edition on Group & Team Coaching.

You wanted to own a business because it put you in control of your destiny. But then it turns out that there’s STILL lots not under your control!

And big stuff can happen in your industry, in the country, and in the world. Stuff you can’t control.

So there are times when you have to reach out for help.

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Goals are great, and can inspire you to wonderful things. But I find that people often neglect to answer a critical question: Where are you starting from?

With all my clients, we uncover their goals and visions and possibilities, but then we spend a good amount on their current situation. It’s not about me understanding their challenges.

No, it’s about uncovering resources and limitations, before designing the best next steps to take.

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I have a fun exercise that I’ve developed for business owners. It’s similar to the discussion of varied roles you have in life: worker, leader, parent, participant in a group, and so on.

But this is a little different.

I’ll help the client to realize that there are different personalities going on: owner, primary employee, sales person, chief financial officer, and so on. This can be a whole lot of “people” bundled into one for someone who is a solopreneur or has a very small company.

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SOME CONVERSATIONS are more confused than helpful. Nothing seems to be working. I don’t think I’m making progress.

I’m sure you go through times like this too.

My personal coping strategy is to step back, breathe, and try to see the bigger picture. That’s easier to say than to do, of course, but I try to give it a go.

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HERE’S AN INTERESTING THOUGHT: In the mountains, the haze lies in the valley. To see further, you have to hike up.

It’s a wonderful metaphor for business.

Yes, you have to get down in the details; that’s where the progress is made. But it’s quite possible that you’re going in circles down there, so you have to pull yourself out occasionally to look at the big picture.

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RUNNING A BUSINESS can feel pretty isolated.

Even when you’re surrounded by employees, teams, partners, suppliers, contractors … it can feel like the weight of the whole world is on your shoulders. Because all of them seem to look to you for direction and answers.

And you don’t want to burden your loved ones with business concerns: it seems unfair.

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