For the past nine weeks I’ve been running a Friday mentoring group. I started the group because it was a way for me to keep feeling connected with other people. And I thought it might help others too. If I feel the need to engage in this way, perhaps others would feel the need too.
It’s been a fantastic journey of learning and engagement. At a practical level, I learned usable approaches to holding an online mentoring group. But it’s more than that. I learned so much from people and I’ve come to enjoy and look forward to my Friday mornings. A big feat for a die hard introvert!
Setting the Stage
The concept behind the group was to encourage a sense of connection. For that reason alone I wanted it to be a group that shared experiences with each other, as opposed to me sharing my experience with the group. At the start of each session, I encouraged people to share their experiences by joining in the conversation, or by adding to the chat.
It was also important to develop a safe space. I encouraging people to be respectful of each other and realise we all come from different cultures. For that reason, there was no recording of the hour. Stating this intent at the start helped me set the tone of the hour.
Once the stage was set, it was time to connect. As eager as I was to jump into content and discuss testing and quality topics, I felt it was important to allow us all the time to connect. I did this by getting everyone to introduce themselves and to share one positive thing that has happened this week. I find sharing a positive event, reminds us that yes, good things have happened!
Next step was topics.I wanted the group to decide topics and the Lean Coffee format is great for that. But I wasn’t sure what tool was best to use. After doing some research, I found many people suggested keeping the toolset simple and accessible to all. Initially I tried simply using Google Docs but it was a little clunky to collect and vote on topics. I saw in a tweet that Abby Bangser used a tool called funretro. It was perfect! It allowed us to use the lean coffee format online without having to login. It also had voting capability and a timer. FunRetro quickly became a central part to running the session.
I had never run an online mentoring group before, so I knew I wanted to get feedback from each group to improve the structure. At the end of each session, I asked people for suggestions on how to improve the hour. The first group suggested that topics be collected prior to the hour, as valuable time was spent writing the topics down. This proved to be an excellent idea. When people signed up for the session (I used an online calendar to do that) the confirmation email sent a link to the funretro board and asked people to put in topics prior to the session. I also setup automatic reminders before the event.
One of the big disadvantages of hosting in Australia is timezones. I found many people signing up not realising it was in Australia, so it was important to send people reminders! I always surprised though, how many did stay up. Some people joining us at 3:30am their time zone!
I was asked to change the time to make it more acceptable to many Europeans. However, I really wanted the Australian Quality and Testing Community to benefit from this time, so I consciously set the time that worked for Australians. Maybe the next group of sessions will be more European friendly!