The mastermind concept came from an admirer of industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Napoleon Hill described the idea in his 1937 book, “Think and Grow Rich,” but the mastermind plan adapts to many forms of business networking, not just entrepreneurs, as originally foreseen. The principles of a mastermind group can apply to any employee or workplace group aimed at continuous improvement and personal development.

A mastermind is a group of individuals devoted to mutual support, a sort of mentorship in the round, where each member plays both the role of mentor and mentee. The focus is on enabling the success of others, while in turn drawing on the resources of the group for oneself. As Hill saw the concept, he applied it to business owners who were otherwise on their own. This remains an effective application for broadening knowledge and experience horizons.

Applied to the workplace, the mastermind structure suits groups of supervisors or department heads, those facing similar challenges yet with differing circumstances. The philosophy of the mastermind suggests a new approach to group dynamics over traditional workplace units. However, for those devoted to gaining a competitive edge, membership in an effective mastermind provides a fast track to success.

What can I really expect to gain? This is the critical question – the “what’s in it for me” factor. While that might seem cynical, there really isn’t a point in being involved if you don’t feel you can gain from the experience. But the point on which many such groups falter is not the taking, but the giving. Before you look at how to invest in a mastermind, look at four distinct takeaways an effective alliance can offer.

1. Community: The most effective masterminds bring together people with both like and unlike backgrounds. Each member is after increased success, but comes from a different industry. That’s the model behind the typical business club mastermind. The group is connected by a desire to progress, but not undermined by direct competition. The key factor is a new and diverse community that wouldn’t exist otherwise. It’s a community of intent, not chance, with members invited in for the strengths they can offer as much as for the benefits they can receive.

2. Collaboration: Being the captain of a small business can be a lonely position. It’s all on you. If you’re an entrepreneur by nature, you’ll relish that feeling most of the time, but humans are social creatures, so there are times you don’t want to be the lone wolf. Managers and supervisors face similar isolation. When everyone is looking to you to run the show with confidence and authority, to whom do you turn to express doubt or bounce ideas? When you can’t show weakness before clients and staff, a mastermind collective presents a safe sounding board for expressing concerns, doubts and options, while providing input, feedback and advice.

3. Consolidation: Networking is generally accepted as a key to business growth, yet processes required from typical networking opportunities are often uncomfortable and consequently many of us don’t do them well. It’s the “first date” syndrome – there’s not enough time to relax and be yourself. A mastermind alliance checks that in a couple ways. Everyone is there by strategic invitation, and everyone around you is interested in your success as well as their own, for the good of the mastermind group. Opportunities to build effective cross-promotions don’t have to develop on the fly. When you connect with a network partner on a deeper level, you’re closer to their network now too, in a way a business card exchange just can’t match.

4. Continued motivation: Inspiration and motivation may be the two biggest takeaways a mastermind has to offer. There are probably other sources for the new information you’re learning through your mastermind group. Consider the mastermind concept itself came from Hill’s book. But to get really excited about an idea, direction or plan that’s then reinforced a week later at the next meeting of your alliance, that is something so intangible yet so essential to your personal and business growth. Think of it as an inspirational pep pill, keeping you nourished, nurtured and invigorated on a regular basis.

No matter if you are joining or starting your own group, whether you succeed or fail, there is experience to be gained and lessons to absorb. Each mastermind can be enriching, even if it’s not what you were expecting or doesn’t achieve what you want. Part of the process that’s most valuable is that you’re opening yourself up as a person, to other people and other experiences. Ultimately, while a mastermind is a group experience, you will find the rewards are deeply personal.

Elizabeth McCormick is a keynote speaker, author, and authority on leadership. A former U.S. Army Black Hawk pilot, she is the author of “The P.I.L.O.T. Method; the 5 Elemental Truths to Leading Yourself in Life.” www.YourInspirationalSpeaker.com