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Musings

Mentoring

11 May 2011 by KRS

KRS has always had a culture of mentoring, with senior developers mentoring juniors (newbies in our office parlance). In recent years, the culture seemed to be dissipating, and we had to look explicitly at our practises to get the mentoring back on track.

Here are some of the things we learned (or knew, but had lost focus on).

Mentoring is best done with a specific assigned mentor, and not left to happen organically within a team. The reasons in our case are twofold:

  1. Confidentiality and trust are too low within a large team environment. The protégé does not want to expose their lack of skills to the full team, or ask questions that may be considered stupid. The learning environment needs to be a “safe place”, and this is best handled one-on-one.
  2. Ownership of the mentoring role is too vague when left to the team. A team member may see the junior doing something wrong, or maybe just differently, yet doesn’t feel that it is their place to comment on the junior’s behaviour. It takes maturity and responsibility to step in, and start guiding a protégé.

Along with allocating specific mentors now for our new hires, KRS also worked with ProMentor to workshop the mentoring behaviour and outcomes that we wanted. ProMentor is a Cape based consultancy, specialising in coaching and mentoring.

As a team, our mentors came up with 5 golden rules. These are:

  1. Be the role model that the protégé can aspire to.
  2. Mentoring must be part of the fabric of how we work (not an afterthought).
  3. Show a genuine interest in your protégé. This encompasses being approachable and patient, and genuine deep listening.
  4. Build communication skills.
  5. Strive for continuous growth in your protégé, and also in yourself.

Early signs are very encouraging, as our new group of juniors are rapidly fitting into the culture of the company, and becoming productive members of their teams much faster than previous groups.

But the best reward is in the mentoring group. Our self-confessed technical geeks are learning some very valuable soft skills!

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