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Mentoring a team


Before you bring in a mentor for your team, you should consider these questions, says John Pope.

Why bother?

Of course, if managers were not so occupied with doing things and devoted some more time to the way team members worked together, how the team developed, the strengths and weaknesses of each individual member and their own development needs, there would be no reason for bringing in an ‘outsider’ as a mentor. Indeed, if it were a good strong team, with a good strong manager, the team would resist the idea of being mentored. But as it is, many managers take on too much work, delegate so little or delegate carelessly that mentoring a team can be valuable way of helping a team and its members improve.

How can a mentor help a team?

Spectators can see more of a game than the players if they care to watch how the team gets its results. A mentor who is seen as and accepted as a helper, rather than someone put in by their manager, can certainly identify stresses within the team, pick up so called personality clashes. The mentor can discuss with individuals how differences could be handled better and over time help them to do without help. The mentor can also help bridge that gap between the team and the over-busy manager. That can be a very sensitive area and the mentor must not get into the position of arbitrator or informer. The usual rules of mentoring apply even more strongly.

What can a mentor do to help members within the circumstances of the team?

It should not be difficult for the mentor while within the team to identify aspects of the team’s work where individuals are struggling and cannot contribute as they feel they should. It is only a small step from there to help the team identify those gaps. The mentor can then suggest ways in which the team can fill in deficiencies themselves, or development which an individual needs. However the mentor must not be felt to be taking the place of the manager in the organization’s performance and suggest development routines, even if the team’s manager seems incapable of conducting realistic performance appraisals – a common problem. That would quickly be seen as interference and probably bring the process of team mentoring to a nasty end.

How could the team mentor help the team manager?

The short answer is very carefully and without betraying any confidences however well intentioned. Much depends on the nature of that ever-busy or neglectful manager. My view is that suggesting general questions which the manager should really ask himself is about as far as the mentor should go. And these should be asked in such a way that they do not identify any individual, even implicitly.

Neutrality is essential

A team which would benefit from mentoring is a team which has a problem manager. The team may easily see the mentor as an ally who is able to influence their manager’s decisions or settle disagreements between members. The mentor must remain neutral at all times – difficult when the mentor is seeing much more of the game than the manager and than the players. 

Team mentoring can be powerful

It can be a powerful tool, but power tools cause plenty of accidents to amateur woodworkers. It can help the team which is not getting the help and attention which it needs from its manager and it can help members resolve internal issues, and help them compensate for the lack of attention from the manager. A management consultant is often placed unwittingly in this role as an addition to the consultancy project. A team which needs help will look for help from outside. The mentor must know when to help and when to pass the problem back to the team to handle with their own manager. Team mentoring can be a power tool, use with care.

John Pope has been a management consultant for over 40 years and has worked to improve the development and performance of businesses and management teams at all levels for most of his career. To find out more about John’s work and service please visit the website: His book ‘Winning Consultancy Business’ was published in July and is now available through his website.

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