Best Practice for Peer Support Groups

by Barry Sweeny, 2003


A Strategy for Facilitating, Capturing & Celebrating Mentor & Protege Growth

A BIG Problem in Mentoring – The necessity of a confidential relationship (the blue box in the diagram below) makes many of the terrific things that happen in a mentoring relationship “invisible” to everyone else.

It is critical to capture & celebrate these wonderful experiences, but we need to do so in a way that does not violate this confidentiality.

This is crucial because:

  • Mentor Program Leaders need to be able to monitor the success of the mentoring relationships, intervene when there is a mismatch or other problem, and be able to support both the protege and mentor’s growth.
  • The important impact of the mentoring program and effective mentoring practice needs to be be seen by decision makers who may control resources for the program, but who may never have experienced the power of mentoring themselves and who may have no reason to value it.

Sounds like an unsolvable dilemma, doesn’t it? Thankfully, it’s NOT!

The peer support groups to which the mentor and protege separately belong is the Answer. In other words, there are a mentor peer support group and a protege peer support group, each meeting separately. The following sections have a series of diagrams that show and text that explain how I have figured out how to use peer support groups to accomplish these valuable goals AND still preserve mentor-protege confidentiality.

THE PROCESS

1. The peer support groups include conversations which are guided to focus on the facilitator’s questions,  such as:

  • For Mentors:
    • “What have you learned about being a good mentor in the first month?”
    • “What is the hardest part of mentoring?”
    • What didn’t mentor training teach you, that it should have?”
    • “What have you recently learned about helping reluctant proteges to be more open to listening to your advice?”
  • For Proteges:
    • “What should we have told you during New Employee Orientation, that we didn’t and that we should add next year?”
    • What have you discovered that helps you to learn the most from your mentor?”
    • “What is it like being new in this organization?”
    • “What is it like being a protege?”
    • “What have you recently learned about becoming the best employee (student, teacher, manager) you can be?”

2. Pairs are asked to discuss their own individual answers to the facilitator’s question and arrive at a common agreement as to how to answer it. (1st level of sharing)

3. The pairs then share with their table group or another pair. The table group seeks consensus on the answer, but a “minority report” is fine too. (2nd level)

4. The answers are collected on flip chart paper during a report out to the whole group. (3rd level)

The focus is on validating and affirming the value of their own experience, “mining” that experience so it can be captured, and then sharing it with others.

5. Whole group consensus is sought and data recorded as to the number agreeing with each item on the group’s list of answers.

6. At the end of the dialogue, the leader asks “What terrific insights and growth you have experienced! Does anyone care if these comments are shared with others who are not in the Mentor Program? They should know how much you are learning!”

7. The answers are typed up later as “testimonies” etc. These are shared with everyone & used to inform future program improvement decision making.

This strategy captures the value of private mentoring experiences AND still honors pair confidentiality because people choose to share THEIR OWN responses which preserves the confidentiality promise to their partner. Also, the three levels of sharing move from least risk, to highest risk and create the context for all the information to be revealed.

Here is a visual of what this looks like;

Capturing Mentor and Protege Information Without Violating Confidentiality
#2 – In the mentor peer support group the mentor talks only about his or her own experience, and so does not violate the commitment to keep discussion with the protege confidential. The Mentor Peer Support Group
#1 – The mentor pair commits to keep their dialogue confidential. One Mentoring Relationship
#3 – In the protege peer support group the protege talks only about his or her own experience, and so does not violate the commitment to keep discussion with the mentor confidential. The protege Peer Support Group

The data collected using this method is great for public relations, such as in program newsletters or as testimonies for flyers on the value of mentoring, or recruitment brochures for proteges or for mentors. These data can also be used in program evaluation, since it can be shaped by the leaders’ questions to focus on need for program improvement, what’s working and what’s not, etc.

In all these cases, NEVER quote an individual BY NAME, unless you have prior written approval, which I have found is usually easy to get.