When it comes to leadership development, author Bill Treasurer says mentoring circles are far more effective than one-on-one mentoring. In an article for SHRM, he says it’s impossible to predict how a relationship between two people will develop, making traditional, one-on-one mentorship programs forced and artificial.

On the other hand, in a mentoring circle, participants form natural connections that foster organic learning. Over time, mentees become mentors, creating a pool of alumni of the program and creating a valuable resource for your business.

Mentoring Circles vs One-On-One Mentoring

The principle idea behind a mentorship program is to build lasting relationships between mentees and mentors. However, Bill says, this rarely happens in one-on-one mentorships because it ignores interpersonal dynamics. If the mentor and mentee are personally incompatible, growth is unlikely.

In mentoring circles are where larger groups of people face inward toward a common goal. Working closely together in a group allows working relationships to develop organically as mentees naturally gravitate towards mentors they resonate with.

How The Circles Work

A mentoring circle in a leadership development program would, for example, consist of five emerging leader mentees who are assigned a mentor group. This group would be three senior employees responsible for the mentees’ progress to leadership.

Mentors create a structure for group sessions through the use of a playbook. These are structured outlines that provide reasons for the group to interface and give them a common goal. Examples are outlines to start group conversations and activities that prepare mentees for workshops with larger groups.

Once the structures are in place, the mentoring circle can transform into a strategic action team. Strategic action teams could be tasked with analyzing challenges the company faces and work together to come up with solutions. Mentors and mentees work on subjects that directly relate to leadership and could have a tangible impact on the organization.

Benefits Of The Circles

  1. When participants focus on the task at hand (instead of each other), divisions between mentee and mentor lessen. Once self-consciousness is no longer an impeding force, learning and teaching occur organically.
  2. Having three mentors means if one cannot attend the circle, others can step in and keep the learning process going.
  3. More mentors mean multiple perspectives, reminding mentees that there are many different approaches to leadership.

Choosing and Retaining Mentors

Your best source of mentors will be graduates – alumni – of the leadership development program. They would have risen through the ranks to higher management positions and will be your fiercest advocates.

Once you’ve built a sizable group of program graduates, make these mentors alumni of the program. This keeps them invested and engaged and an invaluable resource for the company.


Establishing mentorship circles and growing both mentors and mentees into trusted leaders provides an immediate return on the investment the company makes in the leadership development program.

By making them alumni of the program, you create a strong mentorship cycle that creates powerful business assets and a reliable pipeline for the company’s future leadership.

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