ATA’s New Mastermind Program for Members: What Is It and Who Can Benefit

ATA’s new Mastermind Program offers you the chance to take advantage of a new kind of mentoring designed to offer you the support you need!

Most translators and interpreters go into business understanding that finding and retaining clients will be hard work. What many fail to see, however, is the difficulty in running a business alone and not always knowing what to do next. This is where ATA’s Mastermind Program can help!

ATA’s new program offers mentoring designed to help you learn and develop professionally. Participants work together in small peer groups (aka Mastermind groups) that meet regularly, giving members a chance to share knowledge on specific topics and work collaboratively to achieve their learning goals.

ATA’s Mentoring Committee, a subcommittee of the Business Practices Education Committee, introduced the initiative this year as a way to help serve long-term members. The pilot rollout for the groups is planned for this spring. Although the Mastermind groups for the 2021 program have already been organized, a call for applications will be issued each January. The following should answer most of your questions about how the program is structured and what’s involved. If this all sounds interesting, start making plans to join us for next year’s program!

What Are Mastermind Groups?

The term “Mastermind” may suggest a connection to the concept of a master class, in which a highly experienced person shares their knowledge as an instructor. Mastermind groups, however, are the exact opposite.

Instead of people learning from one expert, the groups are self-guided and choose their own activities. Mastermind groups follow a peer-based mentoring approach offering a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability, and support. Members challenge each other to set strong goals and, more importantly, work to accomplish them by holding each other accountable. As a result, the groups benefit from the synergy of energy, motivation, commitment, and everyone’s willingness to learn and grow together.

This means that professional peers—people at approximately the same level of professional experience—get together regularly to learn more about a specific topic jointly. The meetings follow a defined script, which helps ensure equal speaking opportunities for all participants.

The size of each group is relatively small, usually around six people. When you think of a 60-minute meeting, a group of six or seven gives everybody enough time to speak for five to 10 minutes. Keeping groups small is important because participation from each member is essential. All members are expected to come fully prepared and engage with each other in meaningful conversation.

Why Is ATA Introducing Mastermind Groups?

There is plenty of information and training available for those starting out in our profession, but materials for advanced specialization and experience can be scarce. For example, we may be using the standard functions of our software tools but have never taken the time to explore highly specific features. ATA often receives feedback from members with many years of experience as translators or interpreters who say they find it harder to locate learning content relevant to their concerns.

The idea of Mastermind groups originated from the process of matching mentors and mentees. Although the Mentoring Committee matches 30 mentor/mentee pairs of members every year through ATA’s Mentoring Program1, we saw an unmet need for in-depth discussions of more advanced topics. The Mentoring Committee wants to bring together people who are at the same level of professional experience so they can meet virtually for structured discussions.

The Mastermind Program is only open to ATA members and designed for more experienced translators/interpreters who want to grow their translation or interpreting businesses, develop another area of expertise, plan for retirement, or discuss other specific topics. We will initially offer three to four discussion topics a year, but are open to suggestions for special issues ATA members want to discuss. The groups will run from February to July. ATA will not be directly involved in the scheduling or running of the groups. We will expect the groups to follow shared guidelines so that everyone has equal learning opportunities.

At least two years of professional experience are required to participate. The concept is not an ideal fit for beginners who are learning about the industry and their careers. ATA offers other initiates that newcomers will find more beneficial, including the Mentoring Program, webinars, and the Savvy Newcomer blog.2

How Will the Groups Run?

Groups will be assembled according to their interests. For example, members may want to talk about:

  • Moving up to a new pricing tier
  • Developing a new specialization
  • Adding a new service to your portfolio
  • Moving from agencies to direct clients
  • Starting or developing a translation company
  • Retirement planning
  • Translation and the digital transformation
  • Contracts and non-disclosure agreements

The program will run as a pilot with a limited number of groups in 2021. The list of discussion topics is open and will be updated every year based on the feedback we receive. If you’re interested in a specific topic or are willing to facilitate a Mastermind group for six months, the time to let the Mentoring Committee know is in January.

The Mentoring Committee will put people with the same interests in contact and provide instructions for the next steps. As mentioned earlier, to facilitate discussion, the groups will not be larger than six or seven people. The Mentoring Committee will provide training for people who are interested in serving as group facilitators.

Groups will decide independently where and how to meet. Venues can include Zoom, Google Meet, or similar applications. Someone in the group will keep an attendance record for the purpose of continuing education points (CEPS). Group facilitators and participants are eligible for CEPs and can earn up to 10 points (one CEP per two hours of volunteering).

The monthly meetings will include aspects typically not found in a class or presentation: giving each other feedback, sharing what you learned, or pursuing specific questions. No one in the group, including the facilitator, has to be an expert on the subject matter. Activities such as selling your services, discussing unrelated concerns, or taking over the conversation will be firmly discouraged. The quality of discourse makes all the difference. When members of a Mastermind group abandon their cooperative dialogue and start complaining, they have turned their group into a committee.

Experience has shown that the excitement and learning intensity of Mastermind groups can wane after about six months. People usually begin to drift away because the topic has been addressed to their satisfaction, or the group is not as fruitful as it was initially. Of course, some groups may want to stay together longer, but our expectation is for the groups to work together for six months.

What Does It Take to Be a Mastermind Group Participant?

To make a Mastermind group successful, participants should be both interested and committed to making it work. Before the first meeting, members will agree on group rules, expectations, and guidelines. That includes setting a single, definite focus for the group and clarifying the outcome everyone is looking to create. Confidentiality is another critical aspect, so participants need to be sure to talk about what everyone can and can’t share.

Participants must commit to attending every meeting. As mentioned earlier, they are expected to show up fully prepared, take responsibility for their own goals, and hold each other accountable for working toward these goals.

The work of a Mastermind group doesn’t end after a meeting. Everyone must dedicate time for taking action, learning, and research between meetings. The group can also decide on shared activities outside of meetings, such as reading an article or chapter of a book together. Groups may invite outside speakers on specific topics or arrange for presentations. The most crucial point is that activities are planned jointly and that everyone takes an active role in the conversations. Leaning back and letting others do the work is not acceptable.

Mastermind Group Facilitators

Applicants to the program will have the option to volunteer as a Mastermind group facilitator. What does this entail? Facilitators start and run the groups. They help initiate discussions among members and ensure a successful group dynamic by encouraging teamwork and accountability.

Being a group facilitator has many benefits. It’s an ideal way to try something new. A group facilitator doesn’t need any previous leadership experience, and there is no expectation of teaching or being an expert. This means that the facilitator can have the same level of professional experience as the other group members. Qualifications include an interest in learning about the topic and a willingness to network with peers in other language pairs/fields/locations. Please be aware that all group facilitators will be asked to commit for a six-month period.

Facilitating a Mastermind group can expand your network beyond your language pair or division. Because all participants are ATA members, you’ll learn more about other ATA membership benefits and division activities.

Want to Learn More?

Tess Whitty and Dorothee Racette recorded a free webinar in November to provide an overview of the program, which is available on-demand.3

ATA is excited to offer the Mastermind Program as a new membership benefit in 2021. With your active participation and feedback, we hope to roll out a more extensive variety of groups in 2022. If you have any questions or suggestions, please reach out to us at mentoring@atanet.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

Notes
  1. You can find more about ATA’s Mentoring Program here: www.atanet.org/careers/mentoring.php.
  2. See www.atanet.org/newcomers for more details.
  3. ATA Mastermind Program Training Session, http://bit.ly/ATAmastermind-webinar.

Dorothee Racette, CT, an ATA-certified German<>English translator, has worked as a full-time freelance translator for over 25 years. She served as ATA president from 2011 to 2013. In 2014, she established her own coaching business, Take Back My Day, to help individuals and organizations solve problems related to workflow and time management. As a certified productivity coach, she now divides her time between translating and coaching. dorothee.racette@gmail.com

Tess Whitty, CT, is chair of ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee. An ATA-certified English>Swedish translator, she has been a freelance translator since 2003, specializing in corporate communications, software, and information technology. With her degree in international marketing and background as a marketing manager, she enjoys sharing her marketing knowledge and experience with other freelance translators as a speaker, trainer, consultant, author, and podcaster. tess@swedishtranslationservices.com.

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