By Tom Barker, Healthy Workplaces Project Lead
Most mentoring in child and family services comes through informal means. A new person in an agency has a lot on his or her plate: understanding intervention and service frameworks, building networks of community supports, and just plain learning the ropes of a new job. But beyond that there is a comfort zone that all professionals know well and that takes time to build. On an informal level, just “being there” for a new employee is a great way to open the door to mentoring and guide newcomers toward that comfort-zone goal.
Informal mentoring can be one way to make that comfort zone seem more attainable. Consider what mentoring can do to help new employees:
- Impart “insider knowledge” about an agency that can lead to better footing for newcomers
- Impart “network knowledge” of community support people, government agencies, health resources and safety options.
- Support right descision-making when applying ideas from training, or from Alberta’s Child Intervention Practice Framework.
However, in some agencies, mentoring can be more systematic. It’s part of a program designed to foster communication from top to bottom of the career path. In such a formal setting, specific activities can be spelled out to guide mentors and protogees in their work together. Melany Gallant’s blog on 20 Great Ideas for Work Mentoring Activities can be a good start for refreshing one’s memory about mentoring. The thing to remember about Gallant’s suggestions is that you don’t have to do them all, nor do they have to be done in any specific order. Coaching, setting goals, job shadowing, working together: these come naturally to professionals.
One of the main activities mentors and proteges engage in is conversation. Asking questions is a great way to get conversations started. Looking back at Gallant’s activity ideas, you can see them as based on questions.
- What do you think was the “take-away” message from that meeting we just attended? (#13 “Debrief afterwards.”)
- Where do you see yourself after a couple of years in this job? (# 14 Creating a vision statement)
- What brought you to this work? (#10 Share career history)
- How do you think that intervention worked (or didn’t work)? (#3 Address mentee challenges)
- How could you have handled that interview differently? (#18 Be a coach – Target weaknesses)
What even more good questions? The Centre for Mentoring Excellence website has some great ideas for conversation starters. For example:
- For starting the mentoring relationship:How do we make this process work for you?
- For goal setting: What is the most important thing you want to achieve?
- For pushing and challenging your mentee: Is this goal worthy of our time and effort together?
- For goal achievement: Did you get the results you hoped for?
- For checking in and feedback: What value has this provided for you thus far?
Team or Group Activities
Another advantage with having a formal mentoring program is that it gives mentors and protegees the chance to meet and share ideas about activities.
When we think of mentoring relationships, we usually think of one-on-one interactions with a mentor and a mentee. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. In fact, for many organizations, group mentoring has become an equally effective (and often more efficient) way to offer mentoring services to employees.
If you know what other mentoring teams are forming, maybe you can find ways to suggest that teams get together and address issues that come up from time to time. It’s always reassuring to learn that other pairs have asked the same questions, just as it is to get new ideas.
Finally, we want to be accountable in our mentoring. Being a part of a mentoring team or partnership can only be as strong as the self-awareness and responsibility that both partners need to bring to it. To help build accountability, the Mentoring Partnership Check-In Accountability Tool can come in handy. Building an activity around accountability is a great way to help knowledge get built into the culture of an agency. Meetings like this are reality checks that can keep a partnership on track
Whether mentoring is informal or formal, it is centred on activities–conversations, meetings, and reality checks–that keep up interest and keep partnerships moving toward productive goals.