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Mentoring Circles: what they are and how to start one

Mentoring Circles are a great way to encourage knowledge sharing and community building with your mentorship program. We explore the ins and outs of Mentorship Circles in this article and how you can introduce one into your organization.

Noah Edis

August 24, 2022

Did you know that at least 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies implement some form of mentoring in their organizations?

Not only that, but mentoring was named among the top learning and development strategies of companies during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a strategy that all parties can benefit from when done properly.

One type of mentoring that has become popular in recent years is mentoring circles

In this article, w’ll uncover what mentoring circles are, their benefits and advantages over other types of mentoring, and a simple framework for kicking off a mentoring cirlce program.

What is a mentoring circle?

The most common type of mentoring is the one on one mentoring relationship between a more experienced individual (the mentor) and a less experienced individual (the mentee). But mentoring isn’t one-size-fits-all; there are many different ways to mentor and be mentored.

A mentoring circle is made up of a small group of people who meet regularly to discuss specific topics related to their professional development. Similar to group mentoring, it can consist of one mentor and multiple mentees or multiple mentors and mentees.

The key difference here is that circle mentorship requires a facilitator. This person is put in charge of administrative duties, one or more mentors, and multiple mentees who are usually at similar levels in their careers.

Mentees can be new hires going through an onboarding process, high-potential employees under a leadership program, or simply employees with similar skills and backgrounds.

What are the benefits of a mentoring circle?

When people meet regularly to discuss challenges, provide support and advice, and share knowledge and resources with each other, they are enjoying the benefits of a mentoring circle.

So, what are those benefits, exactly? 

Let’s take a closer look:

  • Creates opportunities for networking and collaboration. A mentoring circle builds connections and encourages collaboration among mentors and mentees as well as valuable individuals in their networks.
  • Puts less pressure on introverted employees. Compared to a traditional one on one mentoring relationship, introverted employees can still participate and learn in a mentoring circle without the pressure of carrying half of the conversation.
  • Holds both mentors and mentees accountable. Having a small group of people, usually 4 to 10, to discuss wins and struggles with can be a great motivator for both mentors and mentees.

Likewise, many mentoring programs create mentoring circles just for mentors, so they can coach one another. Jodi Petersen from MentorStrat a mentoring consulting and training firm share that these kinds of mentoring circles can be invaluable:

if you're planning a mentorship program, the full conversation is worth a listen. We discuss what first-time mentorship program managers need to know to be successful.

Who should participate in mentoring circles?

Mentoring circles are composed of individuals with similar backgrounds and experiences who come together to support each other in achieving their professional goals.

Anyone within the organization can form or join a mentoring circle, although they are especially beneficial for:

New hires during onboarding 

It takes time to train new employees, but mentoring circles can help speed up your onboarding program. A mentoring circle can help new hires get to know the company culture and develop strong relationships with mentors and their peers by sharing their expertise and interests.

High-potential employees preparing for leadership roles

Developing your high-potential employees can be a challenge, but it can also be very rewarding. Mentoring circles, similar to learning circles, can help these individuals learn from their peers and the key people in your organization.

Employee resources groups and employees from diverse backgrounds

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are employee-led groups that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Aside from creating a sense of community, diversity mentoring circles can bring diverse employees together, form genuine connections, and find support within the organization.

How do you decide between a mentoring circle and one on one mentoring?

The key difference between mentoring circles and other types of mentoring relationships is that participants have an equal say in each session.

In one on one mentoring, there’s typically a designated “expert” (mentor) who shares knowledge and provides support to the “learner” (mentee).

In contrast, mentoring circles are based on the belief that everyone has something valuable to share, regardless of their experience level, and everyone can learn from each other.

Mentoring circles also tend to be more informal, making them ideal for peer-to-peer mentoring. However, it’s crucial for the participants to feel comfortable sharing openly and honestly with each other. This level of trust is essential for mentoring circles to be successful.

But the key advantage of a mentoring circle is access to the collective experience and knowledge of the group, as opposed to one on one mentoring where only the mentor’s individual experience is leveraged.

Who leads a mentoring circle?

A group leader is essential in any type of group mentoring. At Together, we refer to these group leaders as facilitators, and they can either be individual facilitators or co-facilitators.

The facilitator’s role is to help the group stay on track by:

  • Helping the group identify its collective goals and objectives
  • Setting meeting agenda, structure, and schedule
  • Leading the discussion
  • Keeping the conversations productive
  • Encouraging participation from everyone
  • Summarizing key points, action items, and follow-ups
  • Handling any conflict that may arise

These individuals are usually current members of the organization who have been trained in group facilitation. Facilitators are responsible for ensuring that the mentoring circle runs smoothly, meets the needs of all participants, and stays true to the values of the organization.

Mentoring circle framework: kicking off your program

Creating mentoring circles within the organization can be time-consuming, especially if you have no existing mentoring framework to follow.

Your top priority should be to set a clear purpose for introducing mentoring circles in your organization before starting anything. That way, you’ll avoid any confusion or misunderstanding down the line.

Once you’ve got a clear purpose, you will need to develop a structure for implementing mentoring circles and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Follow these 7 key steps to help you set up mentoring circles in your organization.

1. Decide on the goal of the program

What do you hope to achieve by introducing mentoring circles? What are the needs and concerns within the organization that a mentoring program might be able to address? This will help determine the type of program you want to set up.

If you want to reduce turnover with mentoring, you would want to set up a long-term program with different types of support related to social interaction, role modelling, and career development.

But if your goal is to train future leaders, you might want to set up a shorter program with activities that focus on communication, networking, decision-making, and accountability.

2. Choose who will participate

It's important to be clear about whom the program is for so that you can target your communications and activities. Some questions to take note of are:

  • Will the program be open to all employees or just certain departments?
  • Will the program be voluntary or mandatory?
  • Will the program be for new hires, mid-level managers, or executives?
  • Who will be responsible for setting up the program and matching mentors with mentees?

The size of the group should also be taken into account – too large, and it might be difficult to manage; too small, and you may be sacrificing diversity. It’s best to start with a small group and gradually expand to include more circles.

3. Get leadership buy-in to start a mentoring circle

Once you have a plan for the program, you need to get leadership on board to help with buy-in and support.

This could be in the form of sponsorship, where a senior leader agrees to be an advocate for the program; financial support, which can help cover the costs associated with setting up and running mentoring circles; or both.

This step is important to help guarantee the program’s success in the long run while ensuring that all parties are able to benefit from it.

4. Promote the program to employees

To get employees interested and excited about the program, you need to market it well.

This means distributing attractive and compelling materials on multiple channels of communication like email, social media, and posters to emphasize the benefits of the program.

Getting the leaders to share their experiences and insights about the value of mentorship can inspire and encourage more employees to sign up for the program.

To streamline the registration process, creating a registration questionnaire can help collect relevant information from participants efficiently. 

5. Let participants choose their circle in Together’s platform

To make the mentoring circle experience enjoyable for everyone, it is important that participants feel they can choose a circle that is the right fit for them.

With Together, participants can browse different circles that are available and choose the ones that best match their background and interests. This increases the chances of them being satisfied with the group and the program.

Our platform allows you to create and set group matching rules to provide a seamless matching experience for both mentors and mentees.

6. Build discussion resources to support group learning

In a mentoring circle, you will have a group of people with diverse experiences and knowledge. To make the most of this, you need to create resources that can help guide discussions and learning.

Having a discussion agenda will establish the flow of each session to keep the conversations productive. We’ve listed different topic ideas for various types of mentoring here to help you build your program’s discussion resources.

7. Keep in touch with groups and report on outcomes

After the program has been set up, it’s important to keep in touch with the groups to see how they are progressing and to identify any challenges they are facing through surveys or meetings.

This will help ensure you’re implementing the best practices and course-correct along the way to achieve your desired outcomes.

Tracking different aspects and metrics, such as sign-ups, progress, feedback, and business outcomes, is essential to understanding what’s working and what’s not.

Get started with Together

In just a few clicks, our mentoring platform provides program managers with detailed insights on each program’s performance to evaluate and report on the strengths, weaknesses, and areas of improvement for the program.

If you’re ready to start a mentoring circle and see improvements across the board, why not boost your chances of success? Get in touch with us today and see what you can achieve.

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