Work Culture UX Design Innovation and Accessibility

Group Mentoring at VMware: A Powerful Way to Connect People and Share Insights

Many years ago, I was invited to be a mentor at a UXPA Boston conference. The topic concerned supporting people new to UX or career changers. The setup was simple. In a room full of round tables, every table had two mentors and 8-10 mentees. Each attendee got a card to write down who they were and ask one question. The other mentor at my table and I took turns answering those questions and using the remaining time for additional questions. I’ve done this style of group mentoring in person and over Zoom many times during the last nine years, and I’m delighted to share that we are launching this approach at VMware’s R&D Innovation Offsite (RADIO) event this year.

Below, you’ll find more information about past success with this type of mentoring, why I suggested we bring this technique to RADIO, and some simple guidance on bringing group mentoring to your next event.

Bringing group mentoring to VMware events

VMware has a wide range of internal conferences that connect people with common interests. For example, there was an Accessibility conference the week I joined the company. Having experienced the benefits of group mentoring, I decided to bring group mentoring to events at VMware since it’s a great way to support people on their career journeys. Here are some notes about that process and steps you can take to bring group mentoring to your events.

First, I started with the SHAPE conference led by VMware Design, which brings people from across VMware interested in User Experience and Design together. I teamed up with two of my colleagues who are strong advocates for mentoring, Jen McGinn, who launched the UXPA Boston mentoring program with our friend Bob Thomas, and Serena Jolley, who leads the quarterly mentoring program in VMware Design.

We ran sessions on the following topics across multiple time zones:

  • Career transitions for people new to UX
  • Getting to the next level in your career as an individual contributor
  • Moving from an individual contributor role to a manager role.

Everyone who completed the post-session survey after SHAPE indicated they learned something during the group mentoring session. Most indicated they would likely attend a group mentoring session in the future.

Next, we’re bringing this approach to VMware’s internal RADIO conference. RADIO brings VMware technologists and leaders from around the world together to connect, learn, and inspire.

Since it’s a larger event than SHAPE, I reached out to the Women@VMware POD (Power of Difference) employee resource group to see if they wanted to help make my idea a reality. It seemed like a natural fit since their goals include building networks, shared learning, and building on successes. They also have a wonderful mentoring program throughout the year they run with the other PODs. When I shared my idea with them to bring group mentoring to RADIO, I got an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response with offers to assist! If you work at VMware and plan to attend the RADIO Conference, please join us as a mentor or mentee. Here are this year’s topics:

  • Transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager
  • Progressing in senior technical roles
  • Developing your influence and professional brand
  • Improving your communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills

Why I think group mentoring is so effective

I’ve done many types of mentoring, and this is one of my favorites because it’s relatively easy to pull off and satisfying for both mentors and mentees.

  • Very little prep is required with this approach.
  • Both mentors start by briefly introducing themselves and offering advice to those who want it.
  • Because everyone writes down a question before the conversation begins, every attendee gets at least part of the time customized to their needs. People who join these sessions often have related questions, so hearing what others ask helps some people to realize there are other things they should know about that they hadn’t even considered.
  • Because there are two mentors, you benefit from also hearing someone else’s perspective and learn from them. And if you need a moment to think of an answer, you can ask the other person to go first.
  • During one hour as a mentor, you provide targeted recommendations to 8-10 people, learning new things and sharing along the way. It’s a great way to network with other conference attendees.

Group mentoring has been so popular at UXPA Boston conferences that they had over 1,200 attendees and 274 mentors over seven years and wrote a How-to Guide for help implementing it.

Some guidance for incorporating group mentoring into your events

  1. Find a location. In person, we typically have a room with round tables. Using a tool like Zoom, you can use the breakout room feature. If your conference catalog lets people sign up in advance, you can estimate how many tables you will need. If you expect much interest in a topic, have multiple tables.
  2. Recruit the mentors. We typically have a brief survey where people who want to mentor can provide information about themselves and their availability. When pairing mentors, we include people with distinctly different profiles. It is a subtle way to support diversity, equity, and inclusion since seeing a mix of mentors can broaden people’s perspectives.
  3. Promote the group mentoring activity. Include the sessions in the conference catalog and provide other messages explaining the plan and how to participate. Make sure the mentors and mentees know when to arrive!
  4. Form the groups. Direct people to the right tables or Zoom breakout rooms on the event day. Once the mentors are ready, anyone interested in that topic can join their group and start writing down their questions on a card or in the Zoom chat. When the group has 10-12 people, we indicate that the table is full. That ensures enough time for each person who wants to receive mentoring.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts, so please let me know if you try this. Or if you’ve participated in group mentoring, what has your experience been? Leave a comment below.

And while RADIO hasn’t happened yet, I’m beyond excited to try this activity on a larger scale. Thank you to my colleagues, Anita Jindal, Dana Pratt, and everyone else making this happen!


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