Modern Mentoring: Mentoring Circles


Mentoring Group

By now, you’ve likely heard that mentoring is a big deal. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, it engages employees. Among other things, retention is 25 percent higher for employees who have engaged in company-sponsored mentoring (Deloitte Research Brief, 2012). So it’s no wonder that organizations across all industries and sizes are jumping on the bandwagon and giving this mentoring thing a try. With this rising trend in mentoring comes innovation in the mentoring space itself – such as mentoring circles.

You may have heard of traditional, one-to-one mentoring as a one-size-fits-all approach to connecting people. Today however, innovative applications of mentoring are popping up. Experiments in peer-to-peer mentoring, reverse mentoring, situational mentoring, and onboarding mentor-buddy programs are leading to stronger leadership benches, better knowledge transfer, higher career satisfaction, and more successful organizations. Intriguing, isn’t it?

A New Application of Mentoring: Mentoring Circles

In our Modern Mentoring blog series, we last shared information about another form of mentoring: group mentoring. We also gave you a taste of some of the applications of this idea, such as new manager training and mentoring circles. Today, we’re taking a deeper dive into the mentoring circles concept and we encourage you to try this at home. Or, you know, at work.

The mentoring circles concept leans towards the peer-to-peer side of the mentoring house. In a circles program, you encourage participants from all levels of the organization to propose and own a topic. This unique setup gives motivated employees another avenue to grow within the organization and opens the door for all employees to find or create a circle that gets them excited.

An added benefit? Not only are you engaging volunteers to supplement what your HR team has the capacity to handle, but your volunteers might come up with topics about potential issues that aren’t even on your radar yet. This is a great opportunity to monitor trends and ensure you’re being proactive about keeping employees engaged and happy.

Topics don’t always have to be serious and they can cover a wide range of ideas. A few inspiration topics include Working Moms, New Hires in the Marketing Department, Future Project Managers, or Lunch Break Dog Walkers.

How Do Mentoring Circles Work?

Circle owners designate limits for number of participants, set expectations for how, when, and why the circle will meet, and put their proposed circle on a “marketplace” – a listing of circles that need participants. If you’re lucky enough to have software to manage this, good for you! Otherwise, managing this process can be a little more complicated. Employees – or students, members, or whomever your program caters to – browse your marketplace for circles that catch their fancy and when enough people join, the circle owner pulls the trigger and formally launches the circle.

What benefits might such a program have? I’m so glad you asked.

  • Knowledge sharing: People from across departments and generations can learn from one another, expanding the tribal knowledge pool.
  • Expanding awareness of career development opportunities: People looking to get into specific careers can network with those who have done so, or connect with departments that offer a version of what they’re looking for.
  • Building intra-organizational personal relationships: There’s a reason Gallup asks the question “Do you have a best friend at work?” as part of their annual Q12 engagement questionnaire. Making friends with people at work contributes to retention, and circles can help people find those with common interests.
  • Improving innovation: Solve challenges in unique ways by connecting people with varying skillsets who are interested in solving the same challenge.

Success Tips for Mentoring Circles

Before you leave to go start your mentoring circles program, take a moment to jot down some notes on the critical elements of a successful setup:

  • Have someone designated to administer the program – it won’t run itself! Although volunteers manage individual mentoring circles, you’ll still need an administrator to coach them along, encourage them to recruit participants, and celebrate their efforts.
  • As always, develop goals for the program and publicize these to participants. Without set goals, a circle can meander and get off topic. And although varied conversations are great, you also want to be sure participants come away feeling like they’ve accomplished something.
  • Hammer out your program setup details. Develop an efficient way for participants to propose circles, as well as a marketplace for participants to easily find a circle they’ll get excited about. Remember, you should make this process as streamlined as possible to keep motivation sky high.

Circles is an exciting new flavor of mentoring that can solve multiple challenges in your organization. Whether groups want to come together to deliver a project, provide mutual support, build professional networks, or just have fun, a mentoring circles program can be a creative new additional to your organization.

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