I’ve recently completed the most fantastic programme called FreelanceHer100. The first of its kind, it was designed to help 100 freelance and self-employed women in Greater Manchester to establish and grow their businesses. It came at the perfect time for me, when I was establishing Space HR. When I saw it was being led by Naomi Timperley, I knew I HAD to get on that programme!
The core of the 12 week programme was two sessions a week. One based on the topics that mattered to us as business owners. The speakers were phenomenal business experts and those who had trodden the path before us. They shared their expertise, wisdom and answered all our questions! The second session was a weekly group mentoring session.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when I heard it was group mentoring. Despite my background in HR, I’d never really come across this approach to mentoring before. It wasn’t something I’d seen in action and I couldn’t quite work out what to expect. How could I get the advice and support I hoped for, with others in the room?
I was completely wrong to be sceptical! It turned out to be an incredible experience and one that I would absolutely recommend to businesses looking to support their talent and provide creative avenues of development.
There seems to be a few key elements to a successful mentoring group….
Firstly, you need a flippin’ awesome mentor! Enter, Tina Boden...! Tina runs a number of different businesses and is a business mentor to others, she is the best of the best! As a mentor, she needed to know what to talk about, how to do it and have experience to draw upon. Tina brought the group together and showed us how we could get the best out of the sessions.
Secondly, you need a shared goal. All the women had roughly the same goal and outcome; to establish and / or grow their business. This meant we had shared experiences, concerns, fears and challenges and the aim was to work on them together - with the guidance of Tina.
Finally, you need a WhatsApp group! A lot of the joy of this experience was connecting with a new group of people. This has to happen outside of the group, as well as inside of it.
Each week, Tina would know where to explore and take our conversation, so that we were discussing the topics that mattered the most to us that week. We’d share our own experiences, give advice, sign-post and recommend.
We of course talked about business, I learned a huge amount from the group and moved my business forward massively as a result. But I also found a community and incredible support from an unexpected place. The joy of celebrating successes with the group was inspiring each and every week. There were usually tears and emotions too and we just let it happen. If a listening ear was what we needed that week, then it was the perfect place to let those feelings out - with a group who understood.
For some, that sounds awful - but don’t let that put you off! Remember we made that mentoring group what we all needed it to be at the time. Fast forward 6 months to bring us back together, we’ll be in a different phase of our businesses, not in lockdown (I hope), so our group might have a different output and focus. That’s the skill of the seasoned mentor, to identify what the group needs and steer them in the right direction.
I believe group mentoring can be powerful inside an organisation too. Bringing together a group of people with a common purpose is really inspiring. It allows them to network, share, impress each other and build connections. Imagine if your talent programme wasn’t built around competition to be the best, but was built around a group of people collaborating to achieve more together. That fits my values much more closely.
One-to-many mentoring can really super-charge the learning experience and bring a different dynamic to mentoring. Rather than benefiting from the experience of one person, you benefit from many, along with community and networking that can last a long time after the sessions have ended.
I’m a total convert, skepticism long gone! I’ve accelerated my business and found a group of people who I know will be on the journey with me for a long time to come.