Groupwork: 5 Ways an Academic Mastermind Group Can Recharge Your Career

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Do Mastermind groups, with their hot seats and business optimization strategies, sound squarely corporate to you?

One of the things I’ve been learning during the last year and a half of transitioning out of academia and into the world of coaching and becoming a small business owner is that some of the tools and tricks of the business world deserve a second look by most academics. Even if the verbiage or the packaging don’t resonate with you, the concepts behind a lot of leadership training have a lot to offer graduate students, professors, researchers, and writers of many stripes.

Briefly, a Mastermind group is a small group of people (ten is probably too big) who come together to achieve their own personal and professional goals, relying on mutual support, inspiration, and insight to help them get there faster. Jim Rohn, whom the Interwebz calls “America’s foremost business philosopher” and “personal development legend,” said:

This is the unofficial mantra of Mastermind groups: surround yourself with awesome people who have the ambitions and goals as awesome as yours, rather than surrounding yourself with complainers, whiners, “takers,” and others who drag you down or question your plans.

Look around; who are the colleagues you admire? The activists? The writers? Who in your community seems to be on your wavelength and cut out to do great things? What sort of inspiration and accountability could you tap into if the four, five, or six of you met regularly to check in on your plans, goals, and frustrations and to share resources and collectively celebrate wins?


Putting together a Mastermind group can give your career (or job search or writing project) a powerful boost. Here are five ways to set up a Mastermind group to take your career to the next level.

  1.  Around a common topic: This might grow out of a conference, a seminar, or a special edition but the group can have a longer life and lead to bigger things if you keep yourselves focussed on your common passion. With everyone bringing their perspective and expertise to the table, you can each continue to learn and grow.
  2. Accountability: For when you need that little extra push to meet deadlines, stay on task, and hit the targets you’ve set for yourself. Weekly or bi-weekly check-ins and updates on progress, stumbling blocks, breakthroughs, etc. keep you energized about your project and keep you coming back to your To-Do List so that you’ll have something to share at the meeting.
  3. Pedagogy: At some universities, there are Brown Bag Lunch series or Communities of Practice that look at certain aspects of teaching or research. A Mastermind group lets you choose the membership, set the agenda and the schedule, and determine the goals you each want to achieve and how you’ll support each other in getting there.
  4. Writing: Think of this as a writing group with a bit more structure and teeth to it.
  5. Leadership: Academic leadership is notorious for not coming with a How-To guide or even any specific training (in how to herd cats or nail jello to trees or whatever the metaphor du jour is for “managing” scholars). A Mastermind group focussed on developing each member’s leadership capacities–by reading, conducting informational interviews, analyzing job postings, de-briefing committee and other administrative work–can prepare you for the next stage of academic leadership.

Once you have your cohort, meet and determine your focus, set your agenda and some basic meeting rules (15 minutes for each person per meeting? or a 2-minute check-in per person and the remaining 45 minutes devoted to one person’s issue–the ‘hot seat’?). Make sure that attendance and participation are mandatory; nobody benefits if everyone feels like the group is an optional luxury rather than a career necessity. Then get to meeting!

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