October 10, 2022

How to start a mastermind group.

Josh Little
Co-founder & CEO

This is part two in a four-part series on creating your very first mastermind program. If you missed it, check out the first article: What is a mastermind group?

As you study any successful movement, group, team or company you start to see common threads. Sure there are outliers, but even outliers in many disciplines share commonalities. This is as true amongst successful businesses as it is athletes and musicians.

In order to find the recipe for a successful mastermind, we spoke to more than 60 of the most impressive groups on and off Volley. Some charge tens of thousands of dollars just to be considered. Many of these masterminds count influencers, A-list celebrities, and executives from Fortune 500 companies amongst their ranks.

The more mastermind groups we spoke with, the more clear the pattern became. Although each group did these things in their own way, almost all of them had some form of this five ingredient-recipe for success.

5 principles from the world's most profitable masterminds.

1. A common mission.

The best groups know where they’re going together.  The guide has set the course and determined a mission or goal that is compelling.  The mission or goal should be simple and clear.  It also should be reinforced throughout the program.  This could be done by regularly reading a mission statement or  by displaying a public leaderboard tracking progress toward the goal.

2. Buy in.

We don’t value what we didn’t sweat for.  Masterminds are like most learning experiences, you get out what you put in.  The payment isn’t just to cause members to value the experience.  It’s the very thing that makes the experience valuable because it starts to kick off a virtuous cycle.

Pay → Play → Stay

Because members pay, they invest more in their participation in the experience.  And because when you fully participate in a mastermind, you are giving more than you are receiving.  The more everyone gives, the better the experience.  The better the experience, the more everyone receives.

3. Do work.

There is no such thing as a free form mastermind.  The best masterminds are expertly designed, highly structured experiences where the members are present and focused.  In the top masterminds, members all recognize that they are there to work.  In this case, work together on each other’s greatest challenges or needs in business or life.

4. Trust the guide.

A guide is needed in order to create an experience where uncommon results and breakthroughs occur.  The role of the guide is to keep everyone in the spirit of harmony and focused on the desired outcome.  

The guide typically has elevated expertise that is aligned with the mission or goal of the group, but that isn’t required.  What’s more important is that the guide is an expert facilitator and able to recognize the needs of the individuals and the group as a collective.  Equally as important is that the members recognize and respect the need for a guide to create the best experience for all.

5. No lurking allowed.

This might be the most powerful principle that we learned from the top mastermind groups–one lurker creates two which creates ten.  It’s because a group where lurkers are allowed cannot be stable.  Groups that didn’t have an engagement policy or solid re-engagement strategy will inevitably fail.  The typical time period seemed to be 4-6 months.

In order to prevent someone from lurking there needs to be clear expectations around what good engagement looks like and what happens if it doesn’t.  The most stable groups have strict policies about attendance or engagement.  And if a member fails, they must be removed immediately.  It may seem counterintuitive to remove a member that you worked so hard to acquire, but if you don’t, you’ll soon be losing a lot more.

How to structure your mastermind group for success?

Before you structure your mastermind program, there are a series of decisions that must be made that will dictate the structure.  Don’t worry, we’ll break them down for you.

Meal or Buffet?

You can’t have both.  If you are going to hold regular meetings or events (meals), then don’t expect much engagement in between.  Many of even the best groups we interviewed struggled to find regular engagement in any community platform.  We spoke with people using Slack, Discord, Mighty Networks, Patreon, Circle, and Volley.  Yes, even Volley cannot make someone hungry to engage between meals.

Knowing this, you have a choice.  Either way, you have to be face-to face to exchange value. What kind of program are you interested in creating?  One that has scheduled face-to-face time on Zoom or in a room (meal)?  Or one that has flexible face-to-face time on something like Volley (buffet)?  

Both of these formats can create valuable experiences, but each of them have very different strategies.  To serve a meal you need a lot of organization and preparation to create a magical experience at a single event.  To serve a buffet, you must break up those magical experiences into a daily/weekly/monthly structure that your members will feast on when they are ready to feast, not when we are ready to feed them.

What's the tempo?

Each group seems to have its own individual rhythm.  This usually is determined by the timeline of the goal or purpose of the group and the need to report on progress or accountability.  

Most masterminds are focused on long-term consistent progress toward the individual goals of its members.  Therefore, daily check-ins like those you might find in a 90-day fitness challenge, may not be needed. 

However, this all depends on the philosophy of the guide and the desire for engagement of the group.  While most masterminds rely on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly meeting or event, there are some on Volley that have a daily thought provoking question or 1-minute accountability check in.  

Local or long distance?

The answer to this question may already be decided for you based upon your audience or the focus of your group.  This is an intentional decision that must be made because if you are connecting members long distance, the possibility of a monthly meeting locally is impossible.  You’ll either need to adopt the buffet model (preferred) or the meal model with periodic Zoom meetings and occasional events to gather the group in the same room.

Invite only, apply to join or open enrollment?

When it comes to accepting new members into your group, you have three options:

Open - Anyone can find and join your mastermind as long as they pay.  This is the easiest model to facilitate, but has potential downsides if someone joins that doesn’t have a good fit for the energy or intentions of the group.

Apply to join - A member may apply to join your mastermind on a form or email.  Typically these applications are screened by the leadership or a membership committee of the mastermind and those that pass screening are often shared with the group for a vote.  Many groups require a unanimous vote to allow any new members.

Invite only - This means that you are not publicly advertising or marketing membership in your mastermind group.  This strategy is deployed by high-ticket groups that are highly sought after.

No matter what strategy you choose for your mastermind, your members will likely be the greatest source of referrals to the group.  

Now it's time to set the ground rules.

We have two recommendations for creating the ground rules for your group

  1. Your ground rules should align with the purpose or goal of your group
  2. They should be simple and easy to remember

Some masterminds will even read the rules aloud together at the beginning of a meeting.  This doesn’t have to be done, of course, but the point is that everyone understands, remembers, and abides by the rules of the mastermind.

Group size

We’ve found masterminds between 5 and 500 members.  While there isn’t a certain perfect number of people that make a mastermind work, there are some learnings that can be found in the patterns of classroom behavior and the research on group work.

Everyone must be fed or they will flee.  When the size of a group increases, so does the friction to participate and the competition for “air time.”  It’s easy for a group of 6 or 8 to share air time equitably and allow time for each to receive ample feedback in a synchronous (meal) format, but it’s not possible for a group of, let’s say 50. 

This is why the optimal size of a classroom in public school is somewhere between 20-30.  And for this reason, we feel that’s probably the most ideal for efficient group work without breaking the group into subgroups. 

When it comes to asynchronous (buffet) format, we’ve seen the optimal group size increase by 3-5x because there is no longer a concept of air-time.  In an asynchronous format, members can share what they need to share and move on with their day.  They can also listen to others on 2x, skip the parts that don’t pertain to them, and take time to think and ponder so they are able to come up with a more thoughtful response. 


Most synchronous mastermind groups are not run by a single person, but by a team.  Live events require lots of coordination and facilitation. This can rarely be done by one individual.  For this reason, there are typically one or two facilitators, who are running the program and one or two operational team members behind the scenes that are making sure the venue, food, and logistics are happening as needed.

This structure becomes much more simple in an asynchronous mastermind. Because you’re serving a buffet and don’t need to have regular meetings, it can easily be served by one person as long as the program has been thoughtfully structured and planned.

What's next?

Ultimately, how you structure your mastermind is up to you. But there's nothing more disappointing than starting something new only to see it fizzle out in three to six months. That was actually a common theme amongst mastermind programs that didn't follow one of the five principles we've outlined above.

If you allow lurkers, suddenly one or two turns into ten and the group loses momentum, focus, and engagement. If you let people join for free, then they come and go as they please and it turns into just another subscription. If everyone isn't bought in on the common mission then a singularly-focused group becomes chaotic and unproductive.

Decide today that this won't be your mastermind.

If you haven't already, write down the five principles above. Make a decision about how you want to structure your group program and choose the ground rules you'd like to follow. Also, if you're going the asynchronous route, download Volley and create your space. We have a One-Click Mastermind Template that instantly creates channels based on our research and best practices for masterminds.

In the next article, we'll cover how to get your first members, what to charge, and setting up your launch plan for long-term success. If you missed any of the other posts in our Masterminds 101 series, you can find them here.

Part I: What is a mastermind group?

Part II: How to start a mastermind group. (above)

Part III: Members, Pricing, & Launch Plan

Part IV: How to run a mastermind group...successfully.

Josh Little

4x Founder, Tinkerer, Tenor, Brinemaster. CEO of Volley.

About the Author

Josh Little started his career as a teacher then moved into sales training and education roles at three Fortune 500 companies before making the leap into entrepreneurship. Over the last 15 years, Josh built four successful tech companies (Maestro, Bloomfire, Qzzr, and Volley) that have improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people and been able to consult with some of the top brands in the world. He has a firm believe that a great conversation can change your life and with Volley he's making them easier to have anywhere, anytime.

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