How to run a Successful Virtual Group Mentoring session: My 10 quick tips!

As organizations face knowledge and expertise of long time employees retiring, one method of capturing quickly that information is through group mentoring efforts. If affords the organization the opportunity to mentor many people when qualification to do so is not sufficient to make one-to-one mentoring matches. What do you do when you want to mentor groups but the mentees are dispersed globally? In comes virtual group mentoring.

Here are my 10Top Tips to Successful Virtual Group Mentoring sessions:

1. Test your equipment ahead of time. Our mentoring sessions involved an Adobe Connect session, webcams, microphones, reservation to conference rooms, conference call numbers. All these items needed to be checked way in advance of the group mentoring sessions so we addressed any issues on connectivity, malfunction, etc. Make sure you have a backup plan – If you use Skype be sure you have an account in a similar service like Viber as backup. We

2. Send everyone’s bios before the start of the session. This creates affinity to the members of the mentoring group and allows potential questions and even networking outside of the mentoring sessions. Check In and Check Out. Checkin that you are present, actively participating and engaged. Checkout distractions and potential issues that may prevent you from providing your best input into the discussions.

3. Know your roles. What does a mentor really there for? What will participants (mentees) need to be responsible for? Mentors guide the discussion, incite thoughtful dialogue, create the framework for a lively sharing of knowledge. Mentees participate, provide their experiences and backgrounds into the conversation. Don’t forget to say your name when you speak. It’s good conference meeting etiquette. Even with webcams, sometimes images are grainy or may not even come through properly so indicating who you are would be good practice.

4. Schedule where everyone can participate completely. Know which time zone you are at. How often have we tried to attend virtual meetings only to realize we’re in the wrong time zone? With global participants in your virtual group mentoring sessions, ask everyone what’s their preferred time and then pick the one that has most participants. Even round robin around a couple of time slots so everyone gets to participate in their favoured time slot. I use a simple free online scheduling  tool called Doodle for this purpose.

5. What is the main goal of this session? Expanding one’s network? Determining how to navigate the corporate landscape? Find ways to get to the next level in one’s career? We work with our virtual group mentoring participants using Adobe Connect’s whiteboard feature so that all can type in their goals. We then prioritized which ones were the most important and created our 10 session map using that list.

6. Expectation setting is part and parcel of any meeting. More importantly when you don’t get to be physically in the same room with your participants. We use the comment feature in our virtual meeting room for everyone to type in their input. Along with expectation setting are specific ground rules of decorum – from using the raise hand feature of the virtual meeting room to get someone’s attention, to using different features of the virtual meeting room like using stamps and smiley faces. At another session, we used an online collaboration – like Voicethread to identify ground rules and other administrivia so we can just refer to it rather than spending much time in our 1 hour sessions on this.

7. Have a backchannel available. Allow for the opportunity to have conversations going on while you are speaking then respond to those conversations as well. I use the backchannel in two ways –  (a) as a way to capture any questions that may come up as mentors are speaking and respond to them along the way and (b) to capture any pertinent information that is being discussed in case a participant was not able to hear that valuable nugget of data that may be useful for him/her.

8. Have a clear agenda. We refer to our big list of goals and then break these down into monthly agendas. That way everyone knows where we’re headed with our conversations. Once a meeting is done, send a fullsome summary with highlights of the meeting points. You may even send a video recap of the session if you have the capability to do this. This is an opportunity to add resources that may not have been discussed but useful for the mentee pool. You can then use the summary as a way to do a check in the next time you have your session to determine how your mentees are incorporating their newfound knowledge or additions to their toolkits into their daily lives.

9. Have more than one emotion. You are on camera after all so everyone can see you. Smile, laugh, curl your lip, frown even if necessary. Be yourself. Act as if you everyone is in the same room, because well, they are, virtually in the same room with you. I’ve been in mentoring sessions where I feel I’m being told what to do rather than have a dialogue. Be authentically you.

10. Create a safe environment and mean it. There have been times when I’ve discussed matters with mentors who swear this is only between us and then only to realize that they talk to my boss’ boss about the topics we’ve discussed and question my boss’ input into the whole matter. Mentoring sessions are opportunities for sounding off ideas, suggestions, topics, thoughts, that a mentee may or may not have yet brought up with their own managers. Like counsels, priests, medical practitioners, mentors are to create a safe environment for mentees to tell their story, allow mentees to self-reflect, become self-aware and in the process device their own solutions with guidance from mentors. Unless the topic of discussion is libelous, matters of litigation, or will create a very negative impact to the organization, I wouldn’t suggest mentors babbling to their peers what is discussed in a mentoring session lest you want to lessen the trust accorded you by your mentee.

What are the benefits of Virtual Group Mentoring?

1. How about lessening mentor fatigue and potential burnout. Surprisingly with the commitment involved in mentoring, there are only a handful of mentors interested in managing 10 sessions (that could mean 10 months if sessions are set at once/month only). 8-10 sessions would be a good range for you as you can have enough depth of knowledge share for that period of time. Virtual Group Mentoring creates an opportunity for round-robin of your existing mentor pool as its location-free thus allowing for stretches of time to be managed more effectively without affecting the quality of the experience.

2. Virtual Group Mentoring allows for job shadowing of future mentors wherever those future mentors are located. Geographically dispersed mentors can participate completely using a webcam, a webinar tool (like Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, LiveMeeting, etc.) or something similar, and a good VoIP connectivity. It also allows for a diverse pool of mentors in the process.

3. Knowledge share extends across geographic boundaries. Gone are the days of having face-to-face mentoring sessions with only a handful of experts within the room, having a Virtual Group Mentoring session, individuals across the globe can participate for a more enriching discussion. Also avoids potentially perceived favouritism due to resource limitations. We’ve incorporated guest speakers into our mentoring sessions to mix it up a bit and have a different perspective into various topics from networking to leadership styles.

Now all of this would not happen without leadership support which can translate into budgets as well as allotted time for you to participate in the program. Also not all programs are created equal – corporate circumstances can affect the outcome of your session so I suggest to be creative, to be open to experimentation, be innovative, and just be ready to change it up a bit now and then to keep everyone engaged and interested. Don’t forget to always check for progress.  We even had an evaluator in one of our sessions to evaluate the mentor (not the mentee participation so be clear on that with your mentees and get their agreement so they participate fully) – this allowed for consistency in running and managing these sessions. Finally, have FUN and share your learning by posting them here.

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