How to Start a Mentoring Circle in 6 Steps!
By Megan Himan & Angela Adams
Last spring, we co-started a mentoring circle of other female consultants - through the leadership of Girlforce, the nonprofit organization geared to help women succeed in technology and the Salesforce ecosystem.
Megan: I wanted to help share the soft skills I’ve learned throughout the years - namely building client trust, clear communication and setting boundaries, and project management. And I ended up learning far more from this smart, authentic and committed group of women then I’ve ever given.
Angela: I was interested in starting a mentoring circle to develop relationships with other female Salesforce consultants for nonprofits. I looked forward to sharing best practices and contributing what I’d personally learned and experienced over the past few years. Of all the skills a consultant has in her tool box, listening skills are among those I consider most important! The mentoring circle was a wonderful opportunity to listen and learn!
At Dreamforce, many women (and men) came up to us and asked how to join a mentoring circle. Our short answer? Start one.
How to Start a Mentoring Circle in 6 Steps!
1. Articulate the Why
We had a clear goal of improving our practice and effectiveness as consultants, and supporting each other in growth. Maybe you’re interested in connecting with other professionals in their 20s, or other advanced technology administrators from environmental orgs. Being clear about what you want to get out of it will help keep you motivated, and attract folks who will push each other in this direction.
2. Find an Ally
Megan: Our mentoring circle wouldn’t have happened without Angela. She approached me about the idea, and kept circling back to it when I felt “too busy”. And then she sent out announcements, google doc sign-up forms and made it happen. I am beyond grateful for her energy and thoughtfulness in setting this up. Finding an ally to help you start will give each other the initial energy to start. Steps 3-6 will keep it in motion without much additional work from you!
3. Figure out Timing
We’ve both been in a few mentoring circles - a few that met once a month, and some that met weekly for a prescribed period of time. We decided that to build some momentum, we’d meet weekly for 6 weeks, at which time our group met, decided to meet once/month for a quarter and now quarterly. The strong foundation we built in our initial time together meant that it someone missed a meeting it wasn’t two months before we heard from them again. We also, as consultants, decided to have sessions that were 50 minutes - giving us time for “bio breaks” before any next call started on the hour.
Recommendation: have a set number of sessions, with an end date, at which time the circle will naturally end, or folks can discuss desire to meet again or on a different time frame
4. Set a Foundation for Growth and Authenticity
As the igniter of the group, the initial session you lead should focus on creating a culture of trust. That means authentic sharing from yourself on struggles, joys and learning moments, but also setting precedents around not mentioning co-workers/clients/etc by name, and an expectation of confidentiality. Angela provided clear leadership on what our expectations were to create a foundation for the group - ours were: Commitment, Respect the Time, Participate Fully, Give Back, and Confidentiality - and used our first meeting to set the platform.
Recommendation: use the first meeting to set mutual expectations, and have group members volunteer to facilitate one week’s topic / discussion
5. Have an Initial Set of Discussion Topics
As the group builds momentum and gains trust, conversations will naturally develop. For the first meeting, it’s helpful to have a list of proposed topics that folks can sign-up to facilitate conversations around in subsequent weeks; and/or add to the list of topics. Of course, these should tie into your big Why from #1 to keep you motivated and interested. Angela setup a google form to get people who were interested to signup, and within that form had people both choose and write-in topics that folks were interested in talking about. That helped us form the initial topic list.
6. Know that the Group will Shift
We set a clear expectation that regular attendance was a must, however when we made the initial call for interested group members (for us, “consultants”) we had a number of people who signed up, who weren’t actually practicing consulting yet, and ended up dropping out. Another had a family commitment that meant she could no longer commit. And it turned out more than okay! The five of us who were left were committed and really helped each other.
Recommendation: Have a vision, and then be flexible to let the group evolve.
We’ve gained so much from being part of a variety of mentoring circles, especially two different ones through Girlforce. We’re committed to helping more people gain peer support. Want support in starting your own mentoring circle? Reach out to us at Megan via brightsteppartners.com and Angela via nowitmatters.com or through Girlforce on the Power of Us Hub.
Megan Himan is founder of BrightStep Partners, a consulting firm for environmental, advocacy and justice nonprofits considering or using Salesforce. She likes fighting the good fight with clean data.
Angela Adams is executive vice president of NowItMatters a Salesforce.org Impact Partner dedicated to helping nonprofits and social impact organizations do more good better leveraging the power of Salesforce. Rumor has it she likes to complete Trailhead modules to unwind after a long day.