Speed Mentoring: Jump Starting Deeper Connections

Finding a great mentor is hard. A lot goes into making mentoring work, but above all it starts with finding a great connection.

I spent today launching a new mentoring circle, with a bit of a twist. Instead of a pure skip-level experience, all of my direct reports were involved, along with high-potential managers from across the organization.

We worked together on business problems, identified key priorities and challenges for the coming year, and came up with some fantastic strategies and plans. There is so much power in collaboration.

And then we tried something new “speed mentoring.”

Speed Mentoring

As a caveat, this is a group that has worked together at various levels. Some of us have deeper relationships and have had developmental discussion before, some were just getting to know one another. We asked in advance, and the team agreed they were game to try something new.

The Design

Although none of us had any experience with “speed dating” we were intrigued by the concept of short, focused interactions to look for areas of common interest.

Each participant was asked to come prepared with any ideas and questions they had for the leaders on the team. The mentees were in complete control of the conversations, and could use the time however they wished.

We set up small tables around the room, and each of the leaders manned a station and the mentees flowed through spending 10 minutes at each station. The mentees controlled the conversations, and each took on a different flavor.

The Questions

I was intrigued at how deep the conversations went in just 10 minutes. Each mentee took a different approach. Nearly all conversations sparked dialogue that will continue.

  • “What’s my “brand with you?”
  • Why wouldn’t you promote me?
  • What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
  • What makes you fail?
  • What are you working on developmentally?
  • Did you ever take a job that was a bad fit? What did you do?
  • What characteristics are you looking for in a leader?
  • How do you think I am doing?
  • Just what makes you so passionate about leadership development?

The Feedback

The feedback we received was amazing. I was worried that the time was too short, or that the feedback from so many people in a short time frame would be overwhelming. Participants agreed that it was “intense” but would do it again with the same design.

  • “It was helpful to see the patterns and consistency in the feedback”
  • “I could tell everyone was being really candid and had my best interest at heart”
  • “I liked that we could control the questions and decide where we wanted to take the conversation with each person.”
  • “It was great to see so many different perspectives on the same question”

The conversations continued later that day, on a break or walking to dinner. Can you mentor in 10 minutes? Of course not. Can you spark a connection worth exploring further? I believe you can.

The best is yet to come.
 

Mentoring in Circles

In my earlier post, Don’t Get a Mentor, I talked about my preference for finding a mentor organically rather than waiting for formal programs. On the other hand, throughout the years, my favorite formal programs have always been in the form of circles.

These are groups with a leader as guide and a small group of people learning together. I have experience with this in 2 contexts: (1) as a formal HR program and (2) as skip level development for my own teams. Both informal, with lots of options for customization.

HR Program

In this context we paired execs with cross-functional groups of leaders learning together. This structure helped to create a space for natural relationships to occur and if someone did not necessarily click with their mentor, they might develop a cool relationship with one or more of their peers. We did all this in-house, at very low-cost. We gave the groups tools, but also lots of latitude to do what worked for them. Each group was given an action learning project (a real problem to solve) which worked quite well.

My internet research shows that there are a lot of companies offering support for this online these days. I would love to hear comments from anyone using these programs and the success that they have had.

With My Own Team

Over the years, I have had a lot of fun running mentoring circles in my own teams. I do this as a skip level experience, giving me an opportunity to get to know 8-10 high potential managers by working together. I always start with teaching them about “elevator speeches”, and having them create one. Glass Elevators: Why Elevator Speeches Matter.

We talk about the business and we all share the challenges we are having and share best practices. The fun begins when we take field trips to struggling areas of the business and offer support. We also do a project together to give back to the business. I have found that these circles (called various names, usually “academies” or “leagues”), are a great way for me and my team to share our vision, work on work, and really get to know the managers in a deeper way. An added win is having a direct report involved with this as part of their leadership experience. I have seen a good track record of successful promotions coming out of these scenes.

Of course, some would argue it’s not “mentoring” if it is your own chain of command. Perhaps.

Please share your stories of mentoring circles. I would love to learn more.