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I have been running a online mastermind/accountability group for a while. It’s a small group, with some people really doing well in the real world. And a few others who are trying to “leech” off of the group, at least in my opinion.

A few questions

  1. How do you encourage people take leadership roles in the group? As in organize meetings etc? in the past, sometimes I have been very busy, and have kind of intentionally delayed starting the group on time (without telling the group). I was hoping that somebody would take the lead and start the meeting etc. But nobody did.

  2. What do you do about negative members, who keep attending the meetings, but only complain about the same thing repeatedly? I can remove these people from the group, but I am not sure how this is going to go with the group.

  3. When I ask the group for advice on how we can improve the group, people just don’t respond. I think the entire group expects that I will do all the work, and they will enjoy the benefits. There's no pre-stated rules or guidelines like on Stackexchange. Should I just arbitrarily set rules?

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    Is all communication done in writing? – user732 Feb 13 '17 at 20:16
  • @JanDoggen, its not a group which is purely based on written communication. The majority of the communication happens over voice/video. We do have to have some of the communication over email/discord/google hangouts. is there something specific about written communication in groups that you see, could be leading the above issues? – alpha_989 Dec 4 '17 at 17:31
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First, a few questions to ask yourself:

  • are you getting more out than you put in? Not "as much as you possibly could if the group was perfect", that's a different question
  • if the "leeches" who gain without contributing left, would the group as a whole give you more, or less?
  • if the complainers left, would the group as a whole give you more, or less?

If you like, you could then ask the same set of questions again but instead of thinking about your gain, think about the group as a whole. This is harder to answer and harder to act on, since your obligation to the group is not "do all I can even if it burns me out, whatever to takes to make their experience the best."

I expect that this line of thinking will lead to a request to the complainers that they contribute more and complain less. This might mean teaching them how to reword their opinions to sound less complaining, or it might mean responding to complaints with "excellent point. What can you do to fix that?" - they might surprise you.

Second, have you ever asked anyone to be your "right hand" or "backup"? You know, start the meetings if you're late, handle complaints, spearhead initiatives, that sort of thing. It's a rare group where people spontaneously do that, yet it's also a rare group where people decline when offered that position. Pick someone and ask them. Maybe even two people. Heck, pick a leech who isn't contributing. See what happens. They may decide it's too much work and quit, which solves one of your problems, or they may start contributing. Either way, you'll probably be happy.

I think the real key is knowing why you're running the group and what you hope to gain. Be clear to yourself about personal benefits vs altruistic intentions. You doubtless have a mix of both. And be clear to the group about what you want from them. In addition to inviting individuals one-on-one to step up, you can also suggest some sort of rotating system where everyone takes a turn week by week, or takes on specific tasks. If you're at the "why am I doing everything?" stage this is probably what you need to do, but of course you will be giving up some control when you do that.

  • @kate-gregorty, thank you very much for your advice. I did implement some of your advice. It helped take some of the load off my back for sure. I found that when I asked the leechers to help out, they just left, which was a good thing. Because they made space for discussions among people who were really interested. – alpha_989 Dec 4 '17 at 17:17
  • One of the places that I made a mistake is that its sometimes much quicker to just do the thing yourself, rather than teach/coach somebody else to take on the role, for long term benefits. When I re-read your answer today, I realized that I have done that most of the time. Its not that I didn't try, but a lot of people refused, and then I gave up. I think, what I should have done instead is to instead ask that during the phone calls, and ask not just one or two or three people, but perhaps everybody individually. – alpha_989 Dec 4 '17 at 17:21
  • Secondly, I think I should have smaller asks, as you mentioned: like be the "right hand" or "backup", rather than lead a meeting. Some people have complied for sure, for other small tasks, but I may have asked too much from them too quickly, as a result, I may have gone down the no-cycle.. – alpha_989 Dec 4 '17 at 17:23
  • Thirdly, I think where I have done a good job is that I have definitely explained the actions or rules in terms of the benefits to the group, which is why a lot of the things worked. But I still think I need to improve on engagement among members. – alpha_989 Dec 4 '17 at 17:24
  • Fourth, when new members come in, I didn't necessarily have an ask, as I used to do everything myself. So they came to expect that I would do everything by myself. So it has got difficult to transition off that. I don't want to necessarily kick the old members as they are friends, but I think I will have to start with the new members and show that they are helping out, and then start asking the older members to help out again. – alpha_989 Dec 4 '17 at 17:28
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Should I just arbitrarily set rules?

No. This would be misjudgement right now. If I read your situation correctly, you are worried that the whole group solely depends on you and there are too few or even no people at all who want to help out. Adding further, there so-called leeches not contributing in a meaningful way but instead complaining all day about the same issue over and over again.

Let's think about who usually sets rules. Normally, it's someone who has the power to do so, in the business world managers, in politics, politicians and so on. These people are all leaders to some degree, they make the rules and they should also be held responsible if the rules didn't work out exactly like they should have. In your case, setting rules would mean that you accept and assume a leadership role - it also implies that somehow you "own" the group regardless of the real relationships because the one doing the rules also has the say (that's the common related thought). And this is not what you want to achieve.

The next time you gather you bring something along that's called "agreement". Instead of saying "These are the rules and you need to abide by them or leave", you bring an agreement and discuss about it. This way everyone has the chance to design the group. The obvious first agreement you bring along should be the following:

To ensure that this group is a lasting experience for all attending, meetings are organized by all participants in a rotating order.

If everyone agrees on the spot, the problem of encouraging leadership is solved. If not, you at least got everyone engaged to discuss about the groups future and you will get to see everyone's point of view - then it's up to you to find a satisfying compromise for everyone including yourself. Just enforcing something isn't the idea here, as it's an agreement everyone should agree with it at least partially. The moment this is not the case anymore, you have no agreement. Convey this so nobody confuses your suggestion of an agreement with a fixed rule.

After tackling this problem, the next one is to get everyone participating.

In order to expand our knowledge horizontally and vertically, every participant is required and encouraged to come up with a topic in a rotating order.

Personally, I don't see the problem with these people "leeching" other people's knowledge - actually, sometimes simply listening brings yourself further ahead than you could imagine. However, at some point even these people should have some questions and topics, they are interested in in particular, but if they have none, you can be sure that their technical interest is satisfied, yet they hang around to grab some extra points by knowing some people.

Agreeing that everyone should participate solves this problem. The good point here is that this agreement shouldn't be too worrisome for you, in the end everyone wants to expand their horizon of knowledge. If people disagree, ask why. You can be pretty sure that they feel not "smart" enough or are "shy", but this is just an excuse. You can only grow to some degree if you are challenged, and overcoming the not feeling smart part and being shy is part of such a group. This should round up those who simply sit there and do nothing.

After all, it's also very advisable to ask some participants specifically how they feel in this group. What their goal is, why they attend, why they do not have organizational tasks and so on. This can pinpoint current advantages and disadvantages so you can take them on more efficiently.

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