Andrew Fayad and Simon Casuto are managing partners of eLearning Mind, a design and development agency that creates interactive learning experiences using modern brain science and intuitively stunning design.

Think about every mentor in every feel-good movie you've ever seen. What do they have in common? From Mr. Miyagi to Charles Xavier and even Yoda, what separates mentors from mentees is that they're all-knowing. They can see the bigger picture and there's nothing you can do to throw them for a loop. Come to them with a problem, and they'll dispense advice worthy of printing on an inspirational coffee mug.

That's in the movies, anyway. And while our experience with mentorship has been less of the Hollywood variety, we contend that our focus on organizational mentorship has created an open learning culture at ELM. Here are my suggestions for ways your company can pair together mentors and mentees as well as encourage team members to take an active role as a mentor.

How to Pair Together Mentors and Mentees

"I don't want to say that we complete each other," said Jack Makhlouf, our Chief Learning Architect, "but where one lacks, the others make up." Jack's referring to the triangulation that occurs between me, Simon, and himself. Even though Simon and I consider Jack to be our mentor, the alliance has been surprisingly equal. When Simon and I were looking for new investment opportunities, we committed ourselves to learn everything we could about the e-learning space. After years of experiencing bad corporate training, we were assured that not only did e-learning offer plenty of opportunity, but it was also the area in which we could do the most good. We're both passionate about learning, so it seemed like a natural place to start.

To foster this type of mentorship environment, “lunch and learns” are a great place to start. Create a Google doc of topics and let people fill out a topic that they know most about, then have them speak for 20 minutes in front of the group. Throughout this process, you should keep an open mind: a topic doesn't have to directly align to your bottom line, but it will contribute to the overall culture of innovation and creativity. These are fun, informal and will allow the cross-pollination of personalities to occur as organically as possible. The right motivation will be met with the right mentor.

I also recommend the “speed sharing” (like speed dating) concept that we have tried at eLM where everyone spends seven minutes with someone else in the organization to share what they know and are most charged up about. If people are shy, you could also try using a round robin tournament style to assign folks together.

Small ideas or pockets of knowledge need the right environment in which to be shared. Use an internal communication app like Slack to keep it as informal as possible. The right culture will feel organic.

3 Tips for Encouraging Your Organizational Mentors

The idea that mentors don't necessarily have to be the oldest and wisest employees can be a difficult idea to adopt at work. We focus on these key areas to help remind team members that you don't need to be a bearded philosopher to be a true mentor.

  1. Catalog your strengths and weaknesses. We know that not everyone can be good at everything, so self-awareness goes a long way in making mentorship possible. Knowing what you have to offer others (and where you lack) means it's easier to get employees to step up and provide talent, context and knowledge for everyone else.
  2. Encourage knowledge sharing. A highly competitive atmosphere in other organizations means employees hold their expertise close to the chest. We don't want team members to ever hold back, so we encourage knowledge share from the top down, the bottom up as well as laterally so we can all benefit. Actively looking for opportunities to share knowledge ("I found a faster way to do this," or "Did you see this article?") makes information a communal commodity.
  3. Figure out the best place a potential mentor would be. What is your reasoning for seeking out a mentor? This is a great way to start the conversation. If I want to know more about a 3D modeling tool, for example, I know the person to go to, and if I want to know how to do a killer spreadsheet, I can figure out who to go to. But if you know what you are looking for and still are not finding a mentor in your organization, you should feel empowered to look outside your organization or even outside of your industry. In San Diego, there are many nonprofit organizations that help folks find the right mentor specifically for entrepreneurs, like the San Diego Entrepreneur Center and StartupCircle. If there's no such luck for you locally, hop online. There are other resources like FindaMentor, Fizzle, and SCORE that are usually comprised of retired entrepreneurs specializing in varying areas of expertise.

Having a revolving door policy for mentorship has affected our organization for the better, even if our egos had to take a hit or two. Do we disagree from time to time? Of course. Even when we have disagreements about certain issues, however, we let the person with the most experience in that particular situation make the decision. From e-learning Miyagis to L&D apprentices, casual mentorship sets organizations on a cultural course that leads to a daily meeting of the minds and an untraditional approach to the corporate pecking order. It's never about when someone was hired or their impressive credentials, but rather what they can teach others that determines who's mentoring whom.

Published on: Sep 4, 2015