As with most traditional structures, mentoring has its cornerstone: one-to-one relationships. That’s the tried-and-true way. But mentoring has evolved in pace with the corporate and academic landscapes and continues to prove itself as a uniquely impressive machine for powering success.
What is Group Mentoring?
Group mentoring is one of several mentoring varieties on the rise and it’s clear why: we humans naturally tend toward groups. Because we love to learn and find support in small groups, identifying and formalizing those groups makes intuitive sense. With group mentoring, you can have one mentor who provides expert information to a group of mentees, and the mentees can also provide knowledge and learning to each other. Today, let’s explore three burning questions about group mentoring programs.
The Impact of Group Mentoring on Organizations
One of the biggest areas of impact that group mentoring can have is workplace learning and upskilling. While each employee’s needs when it comes to learning and development are unique, it’s likely that there will be many overlaps when it comes to what employees want to learn, and the skill shortages in the organizations.
Group Mentoring for Workplace Learning
Identifying those specific skills and introducing a targeted mentoring and learning program around those skills allows employees to gain knowledge while networking and connecting with others who are interested in learning the same thing.
In return companies can expect engaged and loyal workers. Millennial employees, in particular, are twice as likely to stay in a company where they’re satisfied with personal development opportunities, including mentoring, than those who are unsatisfied. It is worth nothing that group mentoring does have its challenges. Introducing any company-wide initiative requires a lot of tracking and coordination, which means additional workload for at least one employee on top of their existing responsibilities.
Of course, there are ways for companies to work around this challenge. They can introduce a taskforce to spread work across multiple employees and utilize software to help relieve the additional workload that comes with implementing a group mentoring program.
Using Group Mentoring to Improve DEI
Group mentoring is also a great tool to improve DEI. An inclusive, diverse organization is one where employees feel comfortable being themselves and are respected as such regardless of their race, gender, age, socio-economic background or disability status.
Getting to that space requires practice, perseverance, and difficult conversations. And group mentoring provides a space and opportunity to have those conversations—particularly in an intimate setting. Through group mentoring, employees of different backgrounds can share their experiences and struggles, as well as provide suggestions and feedback on what the company can do better.
Group mentoring can also provide a support system for under-represented employees and help them form their own Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are often based around a common identity, issue or interests. Organizations can also utilize employee surveys and mentoring software to ensure that they’re being inclusive and not overlooking any particular groups.
What to Consider When Designing a Group Mentoring Program
Get out your Think Ray (a high-energy ray that imparts an intelligent glow upon the wielder) and aim it at the following aspects:
- Sponsorship—Do you have one or a few senior leaders in your corner, backing this project?
- Business (or academic) goals—Figure out which metrics will demonstrate success. It’s becoming more common to see organizations that can get away without KPIs, thanks to a high level of conceptual support for mentoring. But others do need to track organizational outcomes to see the program go the distance.
- Program metrics—You’ll also want to track program health – how many people sign up, how many groups form, how well they persist over time, and participant satisfaction. If you have mentoring software, measuring this information becomes much simpler.
- Training—Mentoring is a learned skill. It’s not innate. Mentoring a group is a different learned skill. Though groups tend to form organically in real life (see: every clique ever), it does take a trained leader to ensure their rallying cry is clear and persistent. They should also provide name stickers and possibly free lunch.
Best Practices in Group Mentoring
To ensure that participants and organizations reap the benefits that group mentoring can bring, companies need to be intentional about designing and implementing the right programs. To maximize the chance of success, organizations need to consider the following factors.
1. Determine how many people should be in each group
The Dunbar number pinpoints five as the standard size of a close support group. According to research by Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller, beyond five participants you’ll see fewer individuals contributing and speaking up. But whether that matters depends on the function or task of the group: after all, throughout history, military units have subdivided into sections of 10-15 and most popular team sports fall into the five-to-11 range.
Many group mentoring scenarios operate like support groups, relying on lively discussion, multiple perspectives, and opportunities to contribute. This type of group will need to be careful of size. Regardless of the group’s function, we’ve observed that it’s impractical to coordinate and track individuals’ participation in group activities beyond approximately 10 mentees.
And remember, a mentoring group has an adviser or mentor. This is an extra one to two people in addition to the recommended group size of “five to question mark”.
2. Decide how often the mentoring group should meet
For one-on-one mentoring programs, participants are typically asked to engage in mentoring for approximately six months to a year. However, it is recommended that, for group mentoring, about three months yields better, longer-lasting results.
Group mentoring sessions can be held in-person at the employees’ workplace or at a neutral location like the library. Many groups are taking their mentoring sessions virtually these days, as it provides more accessibility and flexibility for members, facilitators, and leaders. For a successful group mentoring program, groups should be meeting at least once a month, if not twice.
3. Consider personality types within the program
There are many different personality types that exist, and sometimes it takes a little more effort or finesse to make sure all personalities work well together in a group setting. It’s wise to anticipate the possibility that some personalities will be bigger or more participatory than others. The mentor needs to be aware of this, and prepared to share the spotlight across the group, so that everyone participating feels heard and has the opportunity to speak up. Extroverts might come in with guns blazing, and wallflowers may try to sink into the background at first. Some people might show up early, while others show up after the session has started. Mentors need to set a precedent for attendance and participation of mentees, in order to make the sessions productive.
4. Establish which topics might make sense for the group to discuss
There are some pretty interesting applications for group mentoring out there. You can get creative, specific, structured, or let your mentees propose their own topics. The benefit of the latter is that your oversight involvement can be very lightweight so your manager can stop hiding cleaning supplies under his or her desk “just in case” your head explodes.
Some corporate group mentoring program examples:
- Employee-proposed mentoring circles on diverse topics ranging from “working moms” to “communication skills.”
- New-manager training, with a few newly promoted employees jointly working through a leadership competency development curriculum, while also pursuing individual goals.
- Group support for new hires. Onboarding often involves 1:1 support, such as skills-based training or a buddy to show the ropes. Why not put new hires into groups to share the experience together?
Some academic group mentoring program examples:
- A nationwide prep program for applying for MBA programs. This program offers geo-localized peer support groups with monthly meetups to share experiences with local MBA-hopefuls
- A university that offers peer groups for international students to acclimatize and make contacts. Second-year students lead these groups and ultimately earn a special “lead” certificate that is displayed on their transcript.
5. Understand group dynamics
Bruce Tuckman of Princeton University developed the Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing method of group development.
- Forming – At this early stage, participants rely heavily on the leaders for direction and guidance. The main focus tends to be establishing introductions and determining objectives.
- Storming – Cliques commonly form in this stage, and the leaders of the group are usually tested by the participants, resulting in a power struggle.
- Norming – This is the stage where an agreement is met, and responsibilities are well-defined. Cohesion and effectiveness describe this stage.
- Performing – The beautiful stage where group unity is achieved in shared objectives and goals, and the group is united in achieving them.
When starting a group mentoring program, it’s important that mentors and mentees are aware of these principles in order to develop good dynamics moving forward.
6. Use technology to expand group mentoring benefits
Small, in-person mentoring meetings are useful, but virtual mentoring sessions also offer many benefits. Bringing your meeting to a virtual arena can allow more accessibility for group members who maybe cannot make it to a physical meeting location for any number of reasons.
Having a virtual meeting (either through Zoom, Skype or in-platform video conferencing) still allows participants to communicate visually, have a centralized location to communicate between sessions, and enables program administrators to measure group activity easily. The ability to record meetings also allows members who can’t make a session to keep engaged and remain up to speed. Going virtual with collaboration platforms doesn’t have to be an either/or. Some groups opt to be completely virtual, while others opt for hybrid models with some sessions in-person and some virtually.
7. Measure your group mentoring results
The results of a mentoring program can be measured through qualitative and quantitative surveys. A group’s success can be measured by comparing the group members’ growth, performance rates, retention rates, and promotion rates to those employees not participating in a group mentoring program.
Impactful outcomes have been documented as a result of group mentoring, including but not limited to:
- Networking opportunities that continue beyond the scope of the program
- A deeper understanding of the organization and it’s institutional knowledge
- Refined skills
- Significant increases in group members’ confidence
- Breaking down barriers or silos between departments or functions
- A stronger connectedness and commitment to the organization
Tracking Group Mentoring’s Key Success Metrics and KPIs
Determining the right metrics and tracking them regularly is crucial to the success of group mentoring. Not only does this ensure that companies are on the right track, having access to their ROI can also encourage executive stakeholders to invest more resources into a mentoring program as it scales across the company.
Many programs focus on an array of the following metrics:
- Retention of participants vs. non-participants
- Advancement of participants vs. non-participants
- Satisfaction of participants vs. non-participants
- Skills/knowledge learned
- Tasks completed by participants
- Number of participants vs. total pool of invitees
- Program growth year over year
And engaging the right tools, like Chronus, can ensure that the company does just that. The software tracks data and metrics such as enrolled users, program match rate, and activity and engagement levels, which allows the company to track their program’s success and evaluate and tweak strategies as needed. Chronus also has deep data analytics capabilities that can spot trends and patterns and generate reports on the program’s ROI.
The Role of a Mentoring Platform in Group Mentoring Programs
A mentoring platform empowers an organization that’s running a group mentoring program to take care of administrative and logistical burdens more effectively and efficiently. Group mentoring requires a company to introduce something that can work at scale, and yet is personalized to the needs of different groups and individuals. From matching to establishing a structure and connection plan for the group to follow during the engagement, a mentoring platform helps to add stability and automation to the process.
Chronus mentoring software offers unique features for group mentoring
One of the main features that makes Chronus so great for group mentoring is that the software supports a range of formats—mentoring circles, traditional or peer to peer. It also supports a customizable matching criteria with its AI-driven technology to match the right people together for productive mentoring.
In today’s workplace, it’s best practice to provide virtual options for mentors and mentees that aren’t able to attend physical sessions (or are unable to make it at the designated time). With Chronus’ mentoring software, you can integrate the communication tools your organization already uses, whether that’s videoconferencing or instant messaging in order to provide an open (and optimal) group mentoring experience.
Furthermore, it’s robust reporting allows you to see the real-time impact mentoring is having on the participants, tracking metrics like retention, advancement, satisfaction and belonging. The Chronus platform helps you showcase mentoring impact to stakeholders and employees alike for clear understanding of mentoring successes.
Group mentoring is increasing in frequency. Organizations are turning to the format as a way to combat a lack of mentors, or as a way to scale certain mentors skills and knowledge across a larger number of mentees, without overwhelming a mentor with numerous one-to-one mentoring relationships.
With the help of virtual tools, group mentoring is able to serve those with different learning styles and mentoring availability. Group mentoring allows for the stretching of organizational resources along with greater accessibility and flexibility for group members. With group mentoring programs helping to optimize skill-building, knowledge transfer, and talent development, an organization can grow stronger and more resilient.