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Gracey Cantalupo



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How themed mentoring can improve learning transfer for remote workers

Working virtually provides opportunities to introduce themed mentoring, a more dynamic and inclusive way to mentor.

As many businesses now work virtually, more employers are interested in ways for their employees to stay connected and engaged without in-person interactions. One of the best ways companies can support their employees is by supporting a learning culture where people are encouraged to share knowledge and expertise. Mentoring is one ideal solution, and most mentoring programmes have transitioned to a virtual format.

In this new mentoring environment, many have shifted away from the traditional one-to-one mentoring approach towards a themed mentoring structure. Themed mentoring is an informal peer driven mentoring group intended to give participants the space to share knowledge and experiences.  

These groups are helpful by providing a space for likeminded individuals (or those with characteristics in common) to connect socially and share experiences.

Like more traditional formats, themed mentoring is used to meet a business need and has an overarching strategy driven by that need. In the case of working remotely, themed mentoring helps keep employees engaged in the company by providing a way for people to remain socially connected while physically distant. This helps combat any feelings of isolation or loneliness, which can impact productivity.

Unlike traditional mentoring, themed mentoring does not formally track milestones or goals, but instead focuses on metrics such as participation and satisfaction. Additionally, there is flexibility around participation being voluntary, relationship timelines varying, and breaking away from traditional mentor or mentee roles. This sets themed mentoring apart from one-to-one mentoring by encouraging a creative and open environment where employees still share knowledge and make new connections.

The structure of themed mentoring

Themed mentoring often falls under three broad categories:

  • Identity based: these themed mentoring groups are used to support employees who have shared characteristics or identities including women’s networks, African American networks, LGBTQ groups, and many others. These groups are helpful by providing a space for likeminded individuals (or those with characteristics in common) to connect socially and share experiences. They are not exclusive to members of that identity, however. Allies of those groups are encouraged to join to celebrate successes and understand hardships.  This ultimately contributes to a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
  • Common experience based: these themed mentoring groups are used to support employees who have shared experiences and want to learn from each other. Some common examples include parents networks, veterans groups and hobby groups. When the world shifted to remote work, themed groups supporting remote workers started to emerge.
  • Professional development based: themed mentoring is often used to support career development programmes including onboarding, succession planning, and leadership development. In these cases themed mentoring usually accompanies a more traditional one-to-one mentoring relationship.

Three steps to themed mentoring success

Implementing a themed mentoring programme can occur in a few quick steps:

1. Understand the business need behind the programme: this will help you understand which of the broad categories to target first. This can often be answered by meeting with stakeholders as well as employees to understand the business need behind the programme. In the case of engaging a remote workforce, offering an experience based programme will meet the business need of engaging large populations socially more than an identity based or professional development based programme would.  

2. Determine roles, participation, and timing of the programme: once you know what category you are targeting, you will need to determine roles, participation, and timing of the programme.

  • Roles: these can be entirely flexible. In experience based and identity based programmes, all members play the role of mentor and mentee. In most cases, the groups will appoint a moderator that helps facilitate the discussion, organise meetings, and keep the group on track.
  • Participation: in experience based and identity groups, participation is usually voluntary and based on the person's desire to engage and share. In some cases, like professional development programmes, participation may be a bit more strict and not open to as broad of an audience.
  • Timing: since themed mentoring is most often used to meet an immediate need, groups start and end with the flow of a conversation. In traditional structured programmes there are start dates and set lengths of time. With groups, they start when the need arises and continues until the conversation fades.  Members can also usually enter and leave the group as their own personal needs change. This leads to a more dynamic and lively group.

3.  Recruit participants, get feedback, analyse results, and revise as needed: opening up the programme to the entire employee population will ensure diversity in perspectives and experiences. Get feedback from participants about what is working and what isn’t, and how you can do better for future programmes. Look at results such as participation, satisfaction, and any additional outcomes. This will help build employee confidence and support the business case for future programmes.

Use the technique of themed mentoring within your organisation to implement leadership development and growth. Follow the steps listed above to engage communication and participation in each area.

Interested in this topic? Read Five golden rules for effective mentoring.

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