For leadership development, mentoring has become a proven tool that many organizations have embraced. For some, reverse mentoring — when a younger employee mentors the older, say on new technology — has also become popular.
In either situation, the one-on-one interaction an employee has with their mentor can help change behaviors and increase competencies in multiple leadership areas. But one-on-one mentoring isn’t the only game in town; some say there is another form of mentoring that also provides a solid framework for learning and development.
Group mentoring is when a cohort of 6-8 mentees — sometimes more — meet once or twice a quarter and, through the leadership of a facilitator or mentor, use their time together to build a collective learning dialogue, according to Rene Petrin, president and owner of Management Mentors Inc., a mentoring consultancy.
Just as the relationship between a one-on-one mentor-mentee is ripe for trust and learning, group mentoring also provides a productive and efficient learning environment, said Petrin, whose clients have included The New York Times, UBS and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
What sets group mentoring apart is that it adds another layer to the traditional mentoring relationship: Instead of simply having a mentor, a mentee in a group mentoring environment also has a cast of peer mentors to leverage as resources. “It tends to be much more conversational, more focused on topics rather than the personal issues that [often] get discussed in the one-on-one relationship,” Petrin said.
This comes with some advantages and disadvantages, however. For one, Petrin said, the learning is more conversational, which expands the number of resources a mentee has at their disposal. In some instances, group mentoring also allows for a more nuanced discussion of difference topics.
On the other hand, there is less of the intimacy provided from a one-on-one — which means less personal attention and critique of individual competencies and behaviors.
Still, Petrin said there are some common rules that need to be in place for in-person group mentoring to be successful. The goal of the rules, which Petrin refers to as “norms,” is to make sure that the mentoring group is built on that ever-important ingredient: trust.
Among the most important group mentoring norms:
• Every idea and comment is valid.
• Confidentiality of the group is defined.
• Help one another on issues and in participating in the group.
• Say what you mean and mean what you say.
• Every member is equal within the group.
• The group is created to allow for professional and personal growth and not to solve for everyone’s problems.
With in-person group mentoring, learners move beyond just the “acquisition of knowledge,” Petrin said, and into an environment where people can be “honest in their dialogue.” He also said group mentoring could be paired with one-on-one. In fact, he recommends it.
For others, the fruits of group mentoring move beyond the in-person experience.
Randy Emelo, president and CEO of Triple Creek Associates, boasts of a brand of group mentoring that is solely facilitated through technology. Triple Creek offers this through its “open mentoring” software, which enables large organizations with employees all over the world to built informal mentoring groups.
Much like Petrin’s brand of group mentoring, Emelo said open mentoring technology is driven by different learning topics. The difference is that the group can be far bigger than six or eight — some may even reach as high as 50, maybe higher — and individuals may be included in many different group-mentoring networks at once.
To Emelo, group mentoring can also be less formal. Group members originate learning topics and the dialogue can be moved along on an ad hoc basis. “Five or six years ago group mentoring was really something that was orchestrated around topics,” Emelo said. “…We still see pockets of that, but today group mentoring is much closer to the work and topics [that] are generated by the participants themselves. So it’s not necessarily an activity that is formally structured by learning leaders.”
But is group mentoring’s value was diminished by not holding sessions in-person? According to Triple Creek’s research, it makes little to no difference.
“Our research shows that [in] virtual group mentoring there’s no statistical significant difference between virtual and face-to-face group mentoring,” Emelo said. “And our research shows that when [mentees] are able to create their own agendas and topics needs, the productivity goes up pretty dramatically.”
Petrin, of Management Mentors, wasn’t as sure, saying it’s more difficult to build trust and camaraderie in a group-mentoring situation when mentees are not building in-person relationships.
The primary challenge with group mentoring, he said, is building a “group dynamic” of trust. It’s harder to build a group dynamic when participants are not coming in contact with one another.
Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@CLOmedia.com.