Imagine if Greek goddess Athena, mentor to Telemachus, had invited
her protg to the top of Mount Olympus for a group mentoring
session with the 12 Olympians. Not only would he have had guidance
from the goddess of wisdom herself, but also the collective
knowledge and connections of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo, and the
Group mentoring in a corporate setting may not have the same help from on high, but it is becoming an increasingly popular strategy for augmenting the traditional learning and development opportunities of one-to-one mentoring.
In many cases, the embrace of group mentoring is more a matter of
practicality than a deliberate shift or expansion in mentoring
policy. Companies find themselves with a limited pool of mentors
and not enough time, resources, or senior leadership support to
recruit the mentors necessary to have an appropriate mentor for
each mentee. Group mentoring provides the opportunity to spread the
available mentors across a larger number of protgs, thereby
maximizing each mentor's reach.
But there are benefits to mentees as well. According to academic
research, group mentoring provides a safe venue for mentees who are
uncomfortable meeting one-on-one with a more senior leader. It
eliminates problems relating to "personal chemistry" (or lack
thereof). It allows for multiple viewpoints and cross-disciplinary
examination of issues and ideas, and it creates additional learning
opportunities through group projects and activities. It may never
replace one-on-one mentoring, but it can be an important adjunct to
Like senior-mentor-to junior-mentee relationships, group mentoring
requires a framework with rules and expectations to be successful.
It should follow a certain structure and methodology:
- Groups should meet formally through regularly scheduled
in-person meetings or informally through online group mentoring or
collaboration platforms. The chosen methodology may be dictated by
the geographic distance between group members, the company culture,
or the demographic composition of the mentors and mentees.
- Group facilitators should be used to achieve maximum benefits.
The facilitator's role ranges from introducing the group,
moderating introductions, encouraging participation, and clarifying
expectations to posing questions to elicit mentees' development
needs, helping the group create learning objectives, keeping
mentors on track, encouraging group activities and discussions, and
keeping the group moving in a positive direction. A good
facilitator will slowly fade into the background once the group is
successfully under way.
- In-person groups should include one to three mentors, five to
15 mentees, and one or two facilitators. Online mentoring groups
can have an unlimited number of mentors and mentees plus one or
more group facilitators.
- Groups should be set up around a particular topic, learning
objective, or common challenge. It may be career development,
work-life balance, diversity, innovation, or any number of other
- Each group member should have a specific learning and
development need that is shared with the group. Individual and
goals should be set.
- In-person mentoring groups should have a defined beginning and
end. Members of the group should work individually and as a team
with the mentor(s) on their learning objectives. The last few
meetings can be used for presentations and a closing celebration.
- Online mentoring groups can have a beginning and end, or the
group itself can continue indefinitely with membership changing
throughout the life of the mentoring program.
One of the ways to support this process is to use online mentoring
platforms or other collaborative technology to expedite group
formation, provide a central point of communication, and enable
easy monitoring by program administrators.
Newer mentoring support programs, for example, offer features such
as self-service setup of mentoring groups by employees or program
administrators as well as tags and other tools enabling users to
quickly locate groups of interest. Once a group is formed, some of
these programs offer a separate workspace for each mentoring group
with areas to post group projects, event notices, resources, and
questions that can be answered by group mentors or fellow members.
It's an efficient way to help groups coalesce, communicate, and
stay on course.
Obstacles to overcome
The obvious challenge in using group mentoring for learning and
talent development relates to the personality and behavior
characteristics of individual participants. The "mouse" may need
help with coming out of the corner to fully engage in the mentoring
experience. Conversely, the "loud mouth" may need to be quieted to
allow everyone to participate equally in the group. Facilitators
can help in both cases.
The less obvious challenge involves group dynamics. If this isn't
managed, it can get in the way of an otherwise successful mentoring
group. Bruce Tuckman's 1965 stages of group development - forming,
storming, norming, and performing - aptly defined the problem.
Tuckman's analysis again illustrates why facilitators are critical
in bringing focus and leadership into a group mentoring
During the forming stage, according to Tuckman, members have a high
degree of dependence on the leader(s) for guidance and direction.
Group members are focused on meeting each other and learning about
the group's goals and objectives. Once group members settle in,
however, they may move into the difficult storming period where
cliques for m, leaders are tested, and power struggles ensue.
Strong facilitator leadership is needed at this time to enforce
rules and keep the group focused on goals.
The norming stage occurs when agreement is reached.
Responsibilities are clear. Participants learn to appreciate each
other's skills and experience regardless of any previous struggles.
Mentors and mentees listen and support each other. They are able to
disagree without conflict. The group becomes cohesive and
effective. This leads to the per forming stage, when the group has
a shared vision and is ready to dedicate energy to the tasks
required to meet those shared goals and objectives.
Understanding these dynamics can help facilitators and program
administrators compress the timeframe required to reach the per
forming stage and ensure that group mentoring delivers on its