Three Questions to Jumpstart a Peer Group Meeting

A common thread that ties peer assistance work to mentoring and coaching is the increasing use of group models (peer coaching and peer mentoring along with peer helping) to provide services or supervision, and assist participants to accomplish their goals more effectively and more quickly.

In both peer mentoring and peer coaching, group members typically distribute leadership within the group and take turns initiating activities to act as a catalyst for all members. Peer assistance differs somewhat because there is typically an assigned leader or supervisor, but the leader still works toward increasing the empowerment of each member to act as a leader for all other members.

Participants in all three types of groups, when given the opportunity to act as the group leader for any session, often wonder about how to start the group. Typically, this start-up is called a warm-up, transition or check-in activity. Most leaders want to get off to a good start and energize, focus, or center the members with an activity that will act as a lead-in to the group’s agenda or purpose for being together. And while often a leader’s desire is to use a “fun” activity, all too often the activity chosen is only marginally related to the group’s purpose or more formal agenda.

Peer Resources has devised a group beginning activity that is highly effective in helping a group get started with an enjoyable “ritual”, deepen the connection of the group members to each other, provide a strong foundation for the group’s upcoming agenda, and provide an opportunity for participants to help, support, and encourage one another. The activity is called “trinity,” and while it has a strong spiritual element, it is spelled with a lower case “t” so that it won’t be confused with the more religious meaning of Trinity.

Trinity consists of three questions. Any member of the group can start and provide an answer to the first question and from there each group member, one after another, provides their own unique answer to the first question. The first question is: “What am I grateful for today?” The range of answers to this question can be far-ranging, and it is purposely asked as a “what” question instead of a “who” question, although it is perfectly acceptable to identify a person. No discussion of responses needs to occur; the idea is to quickly create an atmosphere of “gifts” we each have in our lives and a mood of heartfelt connection.

When everyone in the group has volunteered their response to the first question, another group member can ask and be the first to respond to the second question: “What are my intentions for today?” Responses to this question can focus on outcomes, feelings, accomplishments, or even how a participant wants to respond if things don’t go as planned.

The third question that concludes this opening ritual is started by a group member asking, “What’s most important today?” In peer assistance groups a variation of this question is: “Considering what you are going to engage in over the next week as a peer helper, what’s the most important thing you want to accomplish today?”

Sometimes a fourth question is included after participants have identified what’s important: “What can I do today to integrate my gratitude, my intentions, and what I think is important?”

While it might be possible to spend an entire session on the answers participants give to just these questions, the questions are really meant to create a start-up climate or mood that will help every participant to be present and focused. Various responses can be noted or placed in a “parking lot” for further exploration at a later date, if appropriate.

If SpiritMentor readers try out these questions, I’d appreciate hearing about how they worked. I’m grateful to communications specialist and writer Laura Lallone for providing the reminder of the power of these questions and giving permission to adapt them here.

Introductory Exercise for Mentoring Workshop

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to act as a keynote speaker or workshop leader for organizations that want to start or improve their mentoring program and services. I typically like to start my session with an interactive activity that can generate audience reactions and interest in the topic as well as be an opportunity to have fun.

I designed a “Famous Mentor Pairs Quiz” that I would initiate just prior to me being introduced as the speaker or leader for the session. Initially, I just used a slide projector to show a series of slides that started by showing a well-known person, followed by a question as to whether anyone in the group could name that person. That slide was followed by a slide of another person (also typically well-known) and accompanied by the same question: “Can you name this person?” Once the two people were shown and the audience guessed the names (or wondered who they were), another slide would appear which said participants would get one point for guessing which one was the mentor and one point for guessing which one was the person being mentored.

The slide carousel would automatically move on to the next pairing (it was set to a timer). Mostly, the process would go on in the background while participants were getting settled in, finding their seats, and chatting with each other. The idea was to attract attention, begin the focus on mentoring, and engage the participants in a fun “quiz.”

Eventually, technology allowed me to replace the slide projector with a computer projector, which gave me even greater control via my laptop. I also created a video which is available on YouTube for others to use since many of the people in the audience wanted to use the quiz with their groups. While the YouTube video was fun, it didn’t allow for either updating of the people shown in the video and, more importantly, using mentor pairings that might be more relevant to the people in the audience. For example, I made one quiz of Canadian political figures to use when I worked with government agencies, and I made a different quiz using people from the entertainment industry when I worked with communications groups.

This introductory exercise led to a continuing collection of famous mentor pairings. Peer Resources’ website now has the most comprehensive collection of famous mentor pairings anywhere on the Internet. You have to be a member of the Peer Resources Network to access the pairings, but before any pairing is placed in the database, it is displayed on the Peer Resources’ Twitter timeline.

Here are some examples from the recent entries to the database.






Become a Member of the Peer Resources Network

Peer Resources, the non-profit corporation I started with two partners back in 1980, is coming to an end. Our focus on mentoring, coaching, and peer assistance will continue through this Spirit Mentor blog, occasional posts on LinkedIn, social media, and our members-only Facebook page.

I’ve reviewed a number ways to conclude and celebrate the 36 years we’ve been in operation. What I’ve come up with is a way for current members of the Peer Resources Network to have access to all resources as well as some bonus offers we’ve negotiated with other organizations. Readers of Spirit Mentor can also take advantage of these resources and bonus offers.

Here’s a list of the what members will gain when Peer Resources transforms its business model.:

  1. Members pay a one-time fee of $99.00 and become members “emeritus.” This means that all services and resources will be available without any future fee being necessary.
  2. Resources will include all current and future e-books produced and published by Peer Resources.
  3. Resources will include all documents currently only available in Peer Resources’ password-protected area.
  4. Resources will include access to the members-only private Facebook page.
  5. Bonuses will include: A full one-year print and digital subscription to choice: the magazine of professional coaching at no cost (value = $US41.94); a full one-year membership in the International Mentoring Association and subscriptions to their quarterly magazine, Connect, and their monthly newsletter, The Link (value = $US95);the U.K.‘s Coaching at Work magazine has agreed to provide: a two-month, free digital trial, and then if [paid-up Peer Resources Network subscribers] take a paid subscription, Coaching at Work magazine will offer a 20% discount off either a print or digital subscription; and Ton deGraaf, the publisher of Worldwide Coaching Magazine, has offered Peer Resources Network members who take a paid subscription to his magazine (via ApplePay or GooglePay), a free e-book.

To take advantage of this offer, persons must sign up to become members by July 6, 2016. The signup offer is available at




Want Some Help? (Guest Blogger Richard Bach)

(I’m blessed to know people who are great bloggers (writers) and are willing to let me share their work with people who appreciate growth and development. Today’s guest article is by Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull,  Illusions, and other terrific books. His post reminded me of how important spirit mentors have been and continue to be in my own development. Readers can subscribe to Richard’s blog at

“EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, and only sometimes, maybe we can use a little bit of help.

Perhaps we’ve lost a job that we really liked, perhaps we’re in the midst of a divorce, or perhaps the dog that we were hoping might live forever, maybe she’s just died. Those are difficult times.

In the midst of such times, wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were one person in all the world, someone we loved and who knew just how to help us at that moment?  One who had the perfect ideas and exactly the equipment we needed to put us back on our wheels again?

Here’s an example. Let’s say that all these bad things have happened to us and suddenly we’ve driven over the edge a life-crater, and the only thing we could think to do then is to sit on the bumper of our car (which fell to the bottom of the crater, on its side, in the mud) and cry.

We’re in the crater, crying, and about then do we hear this faint little sound, from a long way away (chug-chug-chug…). If only we could have called somebody, but when we tried to do that, our phone died, too.

(chug-chug-chug… louder now.)

With any luck, we were thinking, we could have brought a gun with us and ended our  misery at last, but it turned out that we had left it at home this one time that we needed it.

Now the chugs are louder still and all of a sudden from above the rim of the crater we’re in, here’s the one person we hoped would come to save us, and she’s brought her industrial heavy-duty crane along with her.

She calls down to us, ‘Want some help?’

We would have kissed her, but twenty feet down in the crater, that wasn’t going to happen, so we just looked up at her through our tears.

Her crane is quiet now, not so much noise. Before we can imagine an answer, she shouts again, ‘Would you like a cookie?’

Before we could tell her that we need a lot more than a cookie, down comes a package from her. Bad-news good-news time. We missed the catch and it fell into the mud. But the package was not torn and with only a little effort we open it and in a minute we feel a little better than we did before. Our friend is gone for a minute and the next thing we see, looking up, is that her crane is peeking way over the edge of our crater and a heavy steel cable swings down toward us with a big hook at the end.

Is that strange or what? We prayed for help and here it is!

After our wheels rest on the highway again, she disconnects the big hook from our car.

‘There’s some left,’ we say, while we return the package to her, five cookies lighter. ‘How did you know…?’

‘Happens all the time,’ she says. ‘Some days you’ll think about a person you love and we your friends can tell. You can use some help, all right, and what we have along with us, it turns out to be just what you need.’

She hands the package back. ‘I have lots of emergency cookies in the cab. Keep these with you. They’re always nice to have with you while you recover from a crater.’

What an amazing story this is! And what’s even amazinger is that this story happens to everyone who needs help, anyone who has taken time to meet the ones who would be their helpers.

I learned how to meet them years ago. Chances are that you’ve met some friends then, too. From time to time we forget that they’re there, and we spend a minute sitting on the bumper and crying before we remember that we have helpers no matter how deep our crater may have been.

When I was 12, I met Horatio Hornblower of the British Royal Navy, 1795, through an introduction of C.S. Forester. Hornblower would sail into terrible events at sea, enemies and explosions all around him, yet he used his good sense, his powerful will and his fundamental sense of right, and a little bit of what seemed to be luck, to avoid being destroyed.

At that time there were just two books about Horatio. I loved those books! It took me a while before I discovered that I had become his friend, that I could call on the same qualities that he had used to keep me from being destroyed. I found that I had learned from him to avoid the enemies and explosions during terrible events in my own life. When I had to fight, I could call on him to teach me how to fight the instant before it was necessary.

About the same time, I realized, that I had found a powerful friend and advisor in my mother, Ruth Helen Bach. She’s been dead for 50 years now, but I still hear her in my mind. ‘Take it easy, dear son, think your problems out, first. If you must fight, learn about the nature of your enemy, and discover, perhaps, that beneath their masks they may be your friends.’

Not aware of what I was doing, I began to build my own Board of Advisors. Of course I knew that I was the Chief Executive Officer, my decisions would determine what would happen in my life. But in time I learned how to convene my advisors before I made any major decision.

One day I added Antoine de Saint-Exupery to my Board. Saint-Ex believed in the importance of our mission on earth, important enough for him nearly to die in the sands of the desert, in the storms of the sky, and finally he died flying for the principles of the country he loved.

I found that my Board can be of any size I wish, and represents any idea that mirrors my own values. Today on my Board of Advisors are four living mortals, eight deceased mortals, 13 fictional mortals in various costumes, and two dogs.

You may suspect that one of the fiction souls may be Bethany Ferret, the captain of the Ferret Rescue Service Boat 101, the Resolute. You’d be right, of course. Such a gentle quiet unstoppable force to save lives, of course she’s there! In those five books of the Ferret Chronicles, I count eight of the characters who are now my Advisors. I could list them, but that’s what the books do, they tell why these characters are each teaching me how to reflect their own qualities.

Of course some of my spirit guides are there, and the two most loving dogs that ever have I met.

Look over my Advisors and there’s a painting of my own wish of the ideals I live for.

How do they work in practice?

When I’m desperately tired, when I want to stop instead of fighting on against fatigue, I call on one advisor, Bruce Lee. And strange things begin to happen. As soon as I call on Mr. Lee, he responds with a sudden burst of hidden energy, and it stays until my job is finished. Not just a belief of energy, but living real power, expressed in an instant number of finite physical foot-pounds required to complete the task.

That’s their gift.  The Advisors open an electric rainbow of energy, physical, mental, creative energy, that brings me through the challenges of any day.

How can I talk about these silly ideas for my thoughtful and reasonable readers? Isn’t the suggestion of an invisible Board of Advisors, isn’t this crazy stuff?

My friend (and Advisor) Donald Shimoda all of a sudden appeared to me as I was writing this, with an answer:

‘Of course it’s crazy stuff! You write about crazy things because they work for you! And now you think it will work for anyone who calls on the power of beautiful ideas. Bless you for writing these words, dear Richard!’

What can I say? Except for his polite blessing part, he’s right.”

(Note: In the comments section below feel free to list your own Board of Spiritual Mentors.)

The Ways in Which Mentoring Differs from Other Organization Roles

Mentoring, coaching, supervising, and managing share a number of com- mon elements. Yet the most often asked question is: “How are they different?” In this brief article Rey Carr, CEO of Peer Resources, identifies five key points that distinguish mentoring from other forms of business interaction.

The Quality of the Relationship

Mentoring is primarily about creating an enduring and meaningful relation- ship with another person. While the relationship may be short-term, the fo- cus is primarily on the quality of that relationship and the factors that affect relationship quality: mutual trust and respect, willingness to learn from each other, the use of deeper interpersonal skills and maintaining confidentiality.

While mentors might provide advice or suggestions, they have no stake in whether the partner actually uses or integrates such information into their work or personal life.

While the effectiveness of coaching, supervision and managing might all depend on the quality of the relationship, the primary goal for each of these activities is typically more performance or productivity oriented rather than relationship oriented. Not attending to the advice of a supervisor or manager may jeopardize an employeeʼs career.

The Opportunity for Mutual Learning

Mentoring is distinguishable from other activities because of its emphasis on learning in general and mutual or reciprocal learning in particular. Whereas learning is important in other activities, both the mentor and the partner take responsibility for maximizing the learning activity. Both parties must perceive benefits from participating in a mentoring relationship. While a partner may initially believe that mentoring will lead to promotion or advancement, such progress is based more on the knowledge and skill gained by the partner, and not as a result of the actions of the mentor.

Certainly the best coaches, managers, and supervisors are open to learning from their clients and employees. However, their interaction is less focused on learning from their clients or subordinates. Instead, their focus is more on establishing standards, behaviours, and expectations and ensuring that such elements are carried out properly. In addition, because they are typically paid to perform these roles, managers, supervisors, and coaches continue to carry out their responsibility regardless of any other concrete benefit that accrues to them.

The Developmental Changes

Mentoring in most formal programs has a beginning, middle, and end. It is typically time-limited and subject to a mutual agreement between the parties. In addition, the nature of the mentoring relationship changes over time. During the initial phases of the relationship, the mentor may take more responsibility for facilitating the content and process through asking questions and actively listening. As the relationship progresses, however, the partner begins to take on more and more responsibility for what transpires and the mentor shares perspectives and knowledge. As the partner grows, the need for the mentor may lessen, thus causing attention to how and when to terminate the relationship in a productive manner.

All good managers, supervisors and coaches want to see their clients or subordinates grow and develop in their careers and performance. However, they are normally in charge of when such a relationship will terminate. In addition, their focus remains static and they do not necessarily perceive themselves as developing as a result of employee contact.

The Voluntary Nature of the Connection

Most mentoring relationships are informal and take place in many cases without the direct, conscious knowledge of the participants. In newer, more formal programs, individuals volunteer to be involved in a mentoring relationship. It is typically not part of their formal job description or performance requirement; they are not paid for their involvement; and while they may provide feedback to each other, there are no formal assessments or performance reports conducted or forwarded as part of a participantʼs career progress evaluation. Mentoring experts often recommend that a mentor and partner be far enough apart in a chain of command so that no formal evaluation responsibilities become relevant.

Managers, supervisors and for the most part coaches are all paid for their involvement with other employees. Except for coaches they have evaluative responsibilities and are often required to provide detailed performance reports.

The Big Picture

While mentoring can focus on a narrow band of performance issues or knowledge, it typically is more open to examining broader perspectives. It is often more inclusive of a wider range of topics, including vision, goals, motivation and passion, all reviewed from both a personal and professional perspective. A mentor is more likely to share what he or she has learned from his or her own experiences and what meaning that learning has had as well as what actions have happened as a result.

While coaches, managers, and supervisors might be interested in the whole person approach, they are more often than not, interested specifically in shorter term results or outcomes. Focusing on the larger picture might only be a tool to produce better results. And in some cases, workplace policies or legal issues restrict the range of topics that can be discussed.

Mentoring, coaching, supervision and managing also have many factors in common: they all use and rely on the same interpersonal skills; they all involve learning; they all have an impact on career development; and in common practice, the roles are often used interchangeably. Supervisors and managers, though, are typically official job title designations. Not surprisingly it may turn out that the better managers and supervisors are in carrying out their roles, the more closely they will come to be called coaches and mentors.