People have been learning and growing together by gathering in formal peer groups for quite some time now. Whether you look to Benjamin Franklin’s Junto, Napoleon Hill’s depiction of the Vagabonds (a mastermind group that included Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, President Warren G. Harding and Harvey Firestone), or the first TEC group started in 1957 by Bob Nourse, these groups have proved to be remarkably effective.
That said, the world is changing – fast. So will today’s in-person group model for CEOs and business leaders continue to dominate the global landscape over the next five to 10 years? Probably not. It doesn’t mean it goes away by any means, but in what will likely be an explosion of group forming/joining activity in the coming years, it won’t be what will attract the majority of prospective group participants either. When it comes to the model that will win the day, let’s look at what will stay the same and what will change.
What Will Stay the Same
No matter what format or platform is involved, the five factors common to high performing peer groups (The Power of Peers, 2016) will be a constant.
Right Peers – Having the right peers involves how they are similar AND different. Etienne Wenger-Trayner (1992) noted that groups need a common domain that’s shared by all the members. This may involve each member being a CEO, a woman business owner, the COO, etc. – a common platform/purpose, if you will. While they also need to share common values, their differences are essential to the group’s power of perspective. Each member brings their successes, failures, biases, and range of experiences. It’s this mix of similarities and differences that gives a group its unique identity and purpose.
Safe Environment – There’s been much written about the need for psychological safety for peer groups and teams. For groups, this manifests both in terms of believing the environment is safe to share ideas without fear of being judged and where one can divulge sensitive information. Group members cannot function properly in an environment they believe to be unsafe. Psychological safety is to the group what oxygen is to human survival.
Valuable Interaction – Groups will always need to engage in valuable interaction that gleans tangible outcomes. If they do so effectively, they will grow. Members will be challenged to continually pressure test their safe environment by bringing weighty topics to the group and participating in deep conversations that lead to positive outcomes.
Accountability – Top peer groups and teams (sports or business) have a culture of accountability among team members. They share expectations of what showing up as a good member looks like. These expectations include being committed to the group’s success and bringing their A game to every engagement. It’s what drives the group to be better and it’s what creates the criteria for any new member who wishes to enjoy the privilege of being part of it.
Leadership – Leadership can mean everything from having a trained facilitator lead the group, to a member who serves as the leader, to members who rotate leadership of the group on an ongoing basis. That said, the role is ostensibly the same. Lead to support the group’s success and accept the role as steward of the factors outlined above.
What Will Change
While the five factors will remain the same, much will change. (It’s already happening). Here are just a few thoughts:
More Hybrid Formats – In my work as an adjunct professor over the past decade, I’ve found it’s tough to beat the educational experience one realizes through participation in a course that involves both in-person and online student engagements. The same holds true for peer groups. Combine the spontaneity of the in-person setting with the thoughtful dialogue that occurs in an asynchronous online experience, and watch the magic happen. Both provide opportunities for students/business leaders to learn from one another and develop deep bonds. The groups of the future will blend these types of engagements in exciting new ways. This will not only open the doors for groups to extend their reach, but also eliminate geographic and time constraints that have kept too many leaders from participating in peer groups up to now.
Frequency and Length of Meetings – Fixed monthly half-day and all-day meetings will be less attractive to the leaders of the future for a whole host of reasons. Sticking with the hybrid model above, we’ll see in-person meetings take place less frequently (a handful of times a year). Online video conferencing will occur more frequently, likely twice a month for 90 minutes to two hours max. Too much happens for members to wait a month for the next meeting, so they will want to stay more formally connected – avoiding the commute and lengthy meeting commitment to boot. Advances in online group meeting video platforms (Circles) makes this more practical.
Content (Applied) – Bringing speakers in for half-day and full-day workshops will take a back seat to more efficient and practical content delivery. Here’s one idea: picture 60-minute specially designed webinars led by the likes of Daniel Goleman, Cynthia Montgomery, Simon Sinek, etc. The thing is, they won’t just parrot their books, they’ll show group members how to apply their concepts in the real world. Sharing such content among hundreds or even thousands of groups makes this far less expensive and infinitely more scalable. Moreover, groups will develop mechanisms for reinforcing what they’ve learned over time, thus giving members the capacity and courage to apply it with greater success.
More Asynchronous Engagement and Learning – Bringing one’s A game means showing up prepared for every meeting. Availability of well curated written, audio and video material between meetings, supported by asynchronous online discussion boards, will inspire more continual learning and sharing. These platforms offer a powerful forum for rich conversation and reflection.
Share Your Ideas
We need one another. We always have. Today, as never before, we have the resources and wherewithal to deliver on the power of the mastermind group experience to a new generation of entrepreneurs and CEOs. It’s a value proposition that Ford, Edison, Harding and Firestone understood all too well. Put your stamp on the future by contributing your ideas for how you see the mastermind group of the future taking shape. None of us alone has all the answers. Feel free to share your ideas!
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